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Hispanic Heritage Month
After spending the first 27 years of her life in Puerto Rico, earning two science degrees and working as a pharmacy chemist, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Yesenia Camacho-Arce joined the military as a nondestructive inspection specialist, but never forgets her Hispanic roots. 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 illustration by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley/Released)
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Crossing borders to cross into the blue

Posted 9/19/2013   Updated 9/19/2013 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/19/2013 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- She had a limited English vocabulary that made it difficult to understand and communicate with the instructors. Her family was thousands of miles away, though it felt even further for her. Nothing came easy.

But after enduring eight long weeks of Air Force Basic Military Training (BMT), there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

For Senior Airman Yesenia Camacho-Arce, 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection specialist, the support of her family has encouraged her to reach the goals and dreams she has set for herself and has been her driving force to succeed.

"I was so happy and proud that I made it," she described. "It was a very special moment when I graduated and got to see my family again and share it with them."

Graduating BMT was the highlight of her military career, but that was just the beginning of her transition into the blue.

Originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, a small town on the northern coast, Camacho-Arce said her family has a very strong heritage and bond with each other. The island of Puerto Rico houses almost 4 million citizens, yet is only slightly larger than the state of Delaware in density, a state with a population of less than 1 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With so many people in such a relatively small space, Camacho-Arce said families and townspeople tend to be very close.

"The biggest difference [between Puerto Rico and the United States] is the people," she explained. "I am very close with my entire family; aunts, uncles and cousins. It made it really hard to leave them behind."

During her last few years in Puerto Rico, Camacho-Acre spent her time earning two degrees from the University of Puerto Rico. She received an associate's degree to become a pharmacy technician and quickly began putting her skills to work.

While working full-time to help support her family, she also went to school to achieve a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial chemistry.

She spent more than a year working as a chemist at a pharmacy before the idea of military life crossed her mind. Her brother, a chief petty officer in the Navy and one of her role models growing up, influenced her to enlist, she said.

Camacho-Arce joined the military in November 2010, opting to join the Air Force rather than the Navy because she was offered a job more suitable to her. As a nondestructive inspection specialist, she is responsible for inspecting jets, munitions and ground vehicles to ensure all moving parts are in working order.

According to Camacho-Arce, the job is similar to a doctor taking an x-ray of a body to see exactly where the problem is and requires a sharp mind and attention to detail. Spotting imperfections, such as wears and cracks, are critical to the operational safety of the aircraft and missing them can have catastrophic effects.

In her short time in the Air Force, she has already piled up a list of accomplishments. She earned a below-the-zone promotion to senior airman in June 2012, and was recognized as the Quality Assurance Top Performer later that year.

"She is the first to accomplish a job without anyone having to tell her to start the job," said Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Linkous, 4th EMS nondestructive inspection craftsman and Camacho-Arce's supervisor. "Her motivation is admirable and I see a lot of potential in her with her leadership skills."

With a bachelor's degree on her résumé, Camacho-Arce originally considered becoming an officer, but said the timing just wasn't right when she joined. As much as she enjoys her job now, she is still considering commissioning in the future.

Regardless of her decision, she said her family has always supported her in whatever goals she sets out to accomplish.

"Every day I tell my wife that she is capable of doing anything she wants to because she is so persistent," said Evaristo Santiago, her husband of six years. "We are always going to be there for her and be so proud of her."

With a great family support system that has carried her thus far, Camacho-Arce said she looks forward to continuing to excel as part of the Air Force family.

"I never could have accomplished the things that I have without the support of my husband and family," Camacho-Arce said. "The Air Force has been a big change from my life in Puerto Rico. My family keeps me going, even though it's hard sometimes, but it has been a great opportunity for us."

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