PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) prepares to join the fleet and the rest of the U.S. in recognition and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hispanic Heritage Month began Sept. 15, a day selected because of its historic significance. Eight Latin American countries celebrate their independence during the month of September -- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile and Belize. However, this month is about more than moments in history.
During this period, the Navy sets aside time to honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans and reflect on the rich, diverse perspectives they bring to the nation and to maritime service.
Spruance, like all warships, represents a cross section of the country. Every Sailor possesses unique life experiences and each has a special story.
Chief Electrician's Mate Hector Ortiz immigrated to America at the age of 21. His American journey began in the multicultural boroughs of New York City where he started working with his father, an electrician.
"My father was a [U.S.] resident; he was an electrician working in Times Square," Ortiz said. "I did not know any English when I arrived to the [United] States. The first job I had in the States was as an electrician with my dad. He taught me the basics, and that has always stayed with me."
At the age of 11, Ortiz was introduced to life as a mariner by sailing on a frigate as part of a class trip sponsored by the Ecuadorian navy. On the trip, he explored the Galapagos Islands and discovered his immunity to seasickness, but more importantly his calling into naval service.
According to Ortiz, in Ecuador, high school starts a few years earlier than in the U.S.
"I asked my mom to enroll me into the military high school ... my parents provided my education until I went to the naval academy," Ortiz said, expressing gratitude for the opportunity provided by his parents. "I was very fortunate to receive my education."
Ortiz's acceptance into the Ecuadorian Naval Academy placed him on the road to a commissioning. Unfortunately, he would never wear the uniform of an Ecuadorian naval officer. He was discharged just one year shy of graduation due to an unexpected medical condition. The dream that started on a grade school class trip ended abruptly almost a decade later.
Fortunately, Ortiz's health rebounded and he made a full recovery. He would have a second opportunity to wear the uniform, but this time for the United States Navy.
While living in New York, Ortiz crossed paths with a recruiter on the subway, and he was introduced to the opportunities the Navy had to offer. He was eager to serve his new country and to earn an education that would allow him to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming an electrical engineer.
Ortiz excelled in the Navy, advancing to chief petty officer in nine years, earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and is currently awaiting his commissioning orders under the Limited Duty Officer Program. As Spruance's command managed equal opportunity manager, Ortiz is not just an example of diversity, but an active promoter.
"Diversity makes our nation more powerful, our different backgrounds, cultures and experiences ... it is these differences that makes us stronger as a team," Ortiz said.
Seaman Alexander Flores-Villalobos and his mother, both natives of Costa Rica, arrived in the U.S. in 2010. He aspired to continue his education in mathematics.
"I decided to go to college to make a better life for myself," Flores-Villalobos said. "It was hard in Costa Rica, because I was working and trying to go to college to become a teacher."
Flores-Villalobos spent the first few years in America working several blue-collar jobs before making the life-changing decision to join the U.S. Navy.
"In Costa Rica, people see America in different ways," Flores-Villalobos said. "I understand the need to help others, and this is a good opportunity for me to work with different people and be a part of something greater than myself."
Flores-Villalobos is one of Spruance's newest Sailors, who reported in July during the U.S. 3rd Fleet Pacific Surface Action Group deployment.
"On July 1, I took my oath of citizenship in the morning, and by the evening I was on an airplane, flying to meet the ship in Singapore," Flores-Villalobos said. "Being here, I see people from different places and cultures working together."
Flores-Villalobos is currently assigned to Deck Division. He joined under the Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks program and will soon have the opportunity to select a permanent rating, or military specialty.
Sailors from across the country, and indeed across the world, find themselves working together in a very diverse Navy. Each brings with them a wealth of experience and insights, fostered by their individual upbringing. It is through celebrating these differences these Sailors are unified.
"A mentor once told me the most superficial form of diversity we celebrate is diversity of color," said Cmdr. Manuel Hernandez, Spruance's commanding officer. "The true strength of diversity comes from diversity of perspective; perspective informed and enriched by our various experience, background, and upbringing. "
According to Hernandez, the Navy's strength comes from the multitude of viewpoints that help inform critical decisions, from the captain's chair on the bridge down to the engineering plant in the belly of the ship.
"The U.S. Navy is the world's most powerful navy because we value each other's critical and diverse perspective," Hernandez said. "As commanding officer, my perspective is only one, and therefore limited. I need the perspective of my engineers below decks. I value the perspective of my young boatswain's mates on the forecastle, and I require the perspective of my junior officers controlling the ship from the bridge."
Hernandez came to America at a young age with his family from Mexico. He originally enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an undesignated fireman, serving in the main engineering space aboard ammunition supply ship USS Shasta (AE 33). Three years later, he earned his American citizenship.
Within five years of taking the oath of enlistment, Hernandez was accepted into the Seaman-to-Admiral program and commissioned as an ensign. In 24 years of service in the U.S. Navy, he served aboard five warships, graduated from Harvard University, studied as a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and eventually assumed command of Spruance in May 2015.
"Inclusion of the multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints, formed by individual experiences, is the critical ingredient that enables the superb mission readiness of Spruance and our Navy," Hernandez said.
Spruance and guided-missile destroyers USS Momsen (DDG 92) and USS Decatur (DDG 73), and embarked "Warbirds" and "Devilfish" detachments of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 49, are deployed in support of maritime security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific as part of a U.S. 3rd Fleet Pacific Surface Action Group under Commander, Destroyer Squadron (CDS) 31.
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