by Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
9/16/2015 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Puerto
Rico is a country many Americans only dream of traveling to for a
beautiful vacation. For one Peterson Airman, that tropical paradise was
Senior Airman Andrew Rojas-Marquez, 21st Communications Squadron
cybersecurity specialist, was born and raised in Puerto Rico and loved
every second of it. His Hispanic heritage helped him to become a better
son, husband and Airman.
Growing up in a commonwealth of the United States meant he had much of
the same lifestyle that Americans know, but naturally with their own
cultural spin. Puerto Ricans grow up learning both Spanish and English,
celebrate American holidays as well as their own and listen to pop
Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just some of the
American holidays they celebrate, but specific traditions may be
different. Thanksgiving isn't a traditional Puerto Rican holiday, but
Rojas said they are happy to celebrate it.
The Puerto Rican twist to an American holiday is to roast a pig instead
of the traditional American turkey, he said. In addition, the desserts
are to die for. The most unique to Puerto Rico is anything with coconut
"It's the best candy you've ever had," Rojas said. "There's nothing like the flavor of real, genuine coconut."
In addition to food, the music is also different. He said there is a lot
of merengue and salsa music in Puerto Rico, but there is still pop and
hip hop for younger generations, like in America.
Rojas came to the US while in high school briefly, and then went back to
Puerto Rico to finish high school and bachelor's degree in anthropology
and archeology. The percentage of people with degrees in Puerto Rico is
very high, making it very competitive and challenging to get a job
"I was like 75 percent of the population in Puerto Rico," he said.
In order to not be just another number competing for those few jobs,
Rojas came to the U.S. with his wife in 2011 in search of a career. When
his new job was going to be cut, he looked to the military as his top
Rojas said his mother was prior enlisted Navy and then an Air Force
officer. For him, there was no doubt which military branch he was going
"The Air Force is great," he said. "Education wise, you can get
employment, work experience and at the same time, your education."
The education is really what drew him, so in 2012 at the age of 24,
Rojas joined the Air Force. That and the acceptance of individuals
coming from different backgrounds influenced his choice.
"It's very open-minded and very professional," he said. "It's based on your qualities as an individual and as a professional."
Being part of the small 13.1 percent of Hispanic Airmen throughout the
entire Air Force, Rojas said his heritage helps give him a different
perspective, although he does have to translate his thoughts from
Spanish to English as he speaks. The culture is very job oriented in
Puerto Rico, which helps him be diligent in his career and continuously
looking for ways to improve himself.
"I had this idea that if I didn't have a bachelor's degree that I wasn't
going to get anywhere," he said. "I'm working on my (master's degree in
business administration) with an emphasis in cybersecurity. I'm also
working on my Air Force associate degree so I have something technical."
With all the tuition assistance and resources available for Airmen to
continue their education, Rojas said furthering his education wasn't
ever a question. All the opportunities available are what he tells
anyone who is considering the military.
"It's a great experience and they'll get so much out of it," he said.
"The best thing is education, professionalism and serving the country as
well. In all honesty, it's the best kept secret."
The benefits reaped by signing the dotted line go well beyond the
education and advancement options. Rojas said the military gave him
structure and yet another thing to be proud of. While his heritage and
background is different, he wears the same uniform and fulfills the Air
Force core values of excellence, service and integrity every day.
(The is part one of a four part series highlighting Hispanic Airmen for Hispanic Heritage Month)