Flames burn red, white, blue

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ethan Salgado, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, grew up in El Paso, Texas and traveled the East Coast where he learned many things about his heritage. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year and highlights the achievements and contributions of Hispanic citizens to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mariah Tolbert)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ethan Salgado, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, grew up in El Paso, Texas and traveled the East Coast where he learned many things about his heritage. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year and highlights the achievements and contributions of Hispanic citizens to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mariah Tolbert)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- While honored to say he is a U.S. Air Force firefighter, he is also proud of his Hispanic heritage. Extinguishing the flames of a burning inferno reminds him of his burning pride to be a Hispanic-American.

Airman 1st Class Ethan Salgado, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, describes himself as a Mexican-American. He claims El Paso, Texas as home, but has traveled the East Coast with his family, learning about his heritage along the way.

"I know my heritage, along with Hispanic Heritage Month, means a lot to my family," Salgado said. "Growing up, I remember celebrating our ethnicity through family gatherings, prayers and holidays such as Dios de la Muertas, Day of the Dead. I also remember authentic Mexican meals where the whole family would come together and celebrate the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was like a big fiesta with dancing, music and good times with the family."

Salgado said he knew joining the Air Force would have a greater impact on who he is by making him a prouder person, by being able to represent his heritage within the one percent of people who join the armed services.

"Ethan's ethnicity doesn't play as much of a factor in who he is as much as what he is made up of," said Airman 1st Class Brendan Shonka, 4th CES firefighter. "He can be more accurately described by his interests and attributes. He's a hard worker who only wants to be as good at his job as he can be, not for himself, but for the people who count on him. In turn, it makes him a valuable asset to the fire department."

Salgado joined the Air Force in 2011, and said he has loved it ever since. From fighting the occasional fire, to meeting new people and learning the multiple different aspects of his job, Salgado said he wouldn't trade it for anything and plans on making it a career.

"I never planned to join, it just happened," he explained. "I'm glad I enlisted and I love every single thing about my job. The experiences while serving have truly impacted my life and I am honored to serve next to my Service members. It's also nice when my little siblings and family look up to me and get excited when I come home."

With a support system at home and friends in North Carolina, Salgado said he can do anything he sets his heart to, and in his free time he does just that. He volunteers at the local soup kitchen, hones his drawing skills and even skateboards when the weather is nice. Once his career development courses are finished, he plans to take classes in order to further his education in fire and emergency services.

Also in his spare time, he likes to cook. He says his specialties are some of the dishes he was raised on, like tacos, the way his mother made them, and chicken quesadillas.

"It is definitely important to celebrate your heritage because it's a part of who you are and reminds you constantly of those back home who are supporting you," Salgado said. "I am proud of my heritage mainly because of my family and how far my ancestors have come to allow me, along with the rest of my family, to claim the United States as home. It's an honor to not only serve for them but also for the rest of this country."