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Hispanic Service Members Exemplify Hard Work and Selfless Service

Military personnel in front of a helicopter Air Force Col. Sandra Nestor, director of the nurse corps at the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington, in Maryland, enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves after high school, earned her bachelor’s in nursing through an ROTC scholarship and was with the Army Nurse Corps for 7.5 years. Although she eventually separated from the Army to focus on her family, she re-joined the Air Force and hasn’t looked back (Photo by: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marleah Cabano, U.S. Air Force Central).

Army Col. Edgar Arroyo commands Irwin Army Community Hospital, at Fort Riley, in Kansas.

Air Force Col. Sandra Nestor directs the nurse corps at the Air Force Surgeon General's office at Joint Base Andrews­-Naval Air Facility Washington, in Maryland.

And Navy Capt. Eugenio Lujan runs the professional education programs at Naval Medical Center San Diego, in California.

The three officers have different health care specialties and serve in different military services in different parts of the county. Yet, like thousands of other service members across the military medical community, they share a common Hispanic heritage, which they say shaped the personal values and life goals that led them to a life of military service.

Americans observe Hispanic Heritage Month between September 15 and October 15 to acknowledge, honor, and highlight the histories, cultures, and contributions of people with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

The Defense Health Agency joins in the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in the defense community by honoring the contributions of its Hispanic members and highlighting these three stand-out service members whose selfless service to the country is a testament to their heritage and family values.

Arroyo, Nestor, and Lujan are just a few among many service members who exemplify Hispanic grit and selfless service. They all say family values and life experiences led to their desire to serve, influencing their decision to join the military.

Despite acknowledging that differences - such as Arroyo's Spanish accent­ sometimes create challenges at work, overall, they agree that the military has grown as an enterprise in inclusion and equal opportunity.

"I have always noticed diversity in the military community - that's one of the things that I love," said Nestor. "I believe cultural awareness is growing exponentially."

Arroyo, at Fort Riley, has stood up a COVID-19 vaccination operation at the installation and migrated the hospital to the new DHA electronic health record system MHS GENESIS. Concurrently, he prepared for certification to a DHA small market and accreditation by the Joint Commission while deploying units and delivering health care to beneficiaries over a 12-month span.

"Military service aligned with my family values, my desire to serve, and the platform for a lifetime of great experiences," he reflected. And "my career [is] one full of phenomenal experiences, opportunities to learn and serve, and a great sense of pride for our nation, our freedom, and our family."

Nestor directs the nurse corps at the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington. For her, a rough childhood as one of the older cousins helping and watching her younger cousins who had become mothers early struggle influenced her determination to ensure she built a career to take care of herself before raising a family of her own.

"I found that the military gave me a sense of purpose and provided direction - something that was missing in my life at the time," she said.

Lujan, who directs professional education and serves as the designated institutional official at Naval Medical Center San Diego, oversees 25 nationally accredited graduate programs. Coming from a military family influenced him early on to follow in his predecessors' footsteps and serve.

"My grandfather, father, and two uncles served in the military," he said. "I love the ideals and values that America stands for and felt it was a great opportunity to serve the country and get an education."

Pictures of Navy Capt. Eugenio Lujan and Army Col. Edgar Arroyo
Left: Navy Capt. Eugenio Lujan followed in his grandfather’s, father’s, and uncles’ footsteps to serve in the military. He joined the Navy with a desire to become a physician knowing the military would give him the best opportunity. Right: Army Col. Edgar Arroyo leverages his people skills – attributed to his Hispanic heritage and culture – to implement a people-first approach in his career (Collage of photos from Naval Medical Center San Diego Public Affairs & Irwin Army Community Hospital Public Affairs).

He knew at an early age he wanted to be a physician and felt the military would give him the best opportunity.

"As a physician, the military has the best patient population and mission that I will have in my medical career," he added. "I couldn't imagine doing anything differently."

The three officers stand out in their careers, largely because of the influence their Hispanic cultural and family values had on their upbringing and development. They prioritize hard work, service, and putting other people first - values that align with military medicine and DHA's mission to improve health care outcomes with a medically ready force and a ready medical force.

"I believe that I have used my cultural background and heritage to contribute to our overall development, providing a different optic in solving complex problems and igniting different initiatives," said Arroyo. "The most important contribution is that Hispanics love to interact with people and teamwork - these strong characteristics grounded on family and social connections helped me as I operationalized a people-first priority."

For Nestor, her roots provided her higher sensitivity to different backgrounds.

"I understand when kids join the military and may not know what they actually signed up for," she said. "I also understand [what it's like] when caring for beneficiaries who may be struggling with many other things in their life besides a hospitalization or a visit to the MTF - you never know what someone else is dealing with in their life."

She added that it's not so much her heritage that influences her work, but her desire to "work hard, strive to be fair, believe in getting work done, and helping others along the way," because "we're all in this together."

And for Lujan, growing up hearing from his grandfather, uncles, and father about race and bias against minorities in the military of the 50s and 70s gave him an appreciation for how the military society evolved to become more inclusive during his service.

"There were two societies back then," he said. "I was fortunate that society had changed by the time I served in the Navy."

Comparing the military to "a microcosm of our larger society," he sees that "as society makes strides, so too does the military - we are moving in the right direction."

Specifically, Lujan has seen a greater push by the military to understand and appreciate other cultures in the last 30 years. And although there is still "a ways to go" at the micro level, he feels "the current culture is one that is trying to recruit diversity in culture as well as thought - and part of that is celebrating our similarities as well as the differences.

As far as the significance of observing Hispanic Heritage, they agree it's important to recognize diversity and learn from others' experiences and cultures.

"Hispanics have contributed to the uniqueness of our nation, our melting pot of cultural growth, and allow for continuum in our efforts to promote understanding of other cultures," said Arroyo.

This is also important to be a good neighbor, said Lujan.

"Being a good regional neighbor and partner requires us to know as much as possible of those that we share our borders with," said Lujan. "The future of America is dependent on us maximizing our talent pool independent of culture, skin color, gender, or sexuality to bring the very best each and every single one of us has to offer."

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