An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsroomNewsArticle Display

Article - Article View

Hispanic Heritage: From teaching resiliency to living it

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, guards America’s Fortress at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo. Lopez made the decision to leave behind an extensive teaching career in Puerto Rico to join the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, guards America’s Fortress at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo. Lopez made the decision to leave behind an extensive teaching career in Puerto Rico to join the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, guards America’s Fortress at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Sept. 15, 2016. Lopez plans to use his prior experience in the education world to help excel to the development of the junior Airmen he works alongside. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, guards America’s Fortress at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Sept. 15, 2016. Lopez plans to use his prior experience in the education world to help excel to the development of the junior Airmen he works alongside. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, stands guard at the North Portal of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Sept. 15, 2016. Lopez earned a both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education, and spent 15 years teaching in Puerto Rico before joining the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, stands guard at the North Portal of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Sept. 15, 2016. Lopez earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education, and spent 15 years teaching in Puerto Rico before joining the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- Changing directions later in life can be hard.

Transitioning from the civilian world to a military lifestyle can be shocking for some. Learning an entirely new language in six months may be a bit overwhelming. Having to say goodbye to children and leaving behind the people and culture you call home, to provide better opportunities for your family, is a thought some people wouldn’t dare to consider, let alone endure.

For an Airman stationed at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., all of this was his reality in order to follow a dream he held since his youth.

For 39-year-old Airman 1st Class Raymond Lopez Llaurador, 721st Security Forces Squadron defender, the decision to leave behind an extensive teaching career in Puerto Rico so he could join the United States Air Force proved to him that lessons in resiliency can be learned at any age.

Lopez was 11 years old when he joined the Puerto Rico Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, where he reached the rank of technical sergeant. Lopez said he credits this experience to being the foundation for his desire to join the Air Force.

Vitalized with an excellence-first mentality the CAP program provided him, Lopez went on to study at the University of Puerto Rico, and received a bachelor’s degree in physical education. Wanting to further his education, Lopez took on his next challenge of obtaining a master’s degree in physical education at the Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico. In a couple of years, Lopez walked across a stage, diploma in hand, eager to begin shaping young minds.

“I was ready to make a difference,” said Lopez. “I love people and I love to teach. Teaching was good for me. I wanted to make the world better by making my students better.”

Fast forward more than a decade, Lopez had positively affected hundreds of students and became a father, but he began to reconsider his path in life. This reconsideration was not because he didn’t love teaching anymore, but because for many years he put the lives and betterment of his students first. He thought it was time again to revitalized himself and search for another opportunity for him and his family.

“For 15 years I was a teacher,” said Lopez. “I was excited to help many kids. I wanted to show them they could be anything. I wanted them to know I care about them being the best, but I care about myself and my family too. I was ready for the next opportunity for us.”

After spending time with relatives who were active-duty military, Lopez said he was struck with a strong sense early one morning.

“I have a lot of family who are members of the military,” said Lopez. “I always had interest to join the Air Force and one day I woke up and begin researching what I needed to do to join. Because I’m older, I know I didn’t have a lot of time.”

It was that morning which set Lopez in motion to join the Air Force. Lopez said he traveled from Puerto Rico to New York to finish all the prerequisite testing and paperwork. After saying goodbye to his wife, children, friends and co-workers, he was off to a new place, with a new language about to start a new life.

As a proud Puerto Rican, Lopez spent his entire life speaking Spanish. He said there have been moments throughout the process where the language barrier was an issue for him.

“I know basics of English, but knowing the vocabulary is not the same as being able to talk,” said Lopez. “When I was in basic training, it was hard to understand the drill instructors and they would keep yelling at me – I didn’t know what to do. In tech school and here, everyone helps me with English. I am better, but I am still learning.”

Lopez said the hardest part of the entire transition has not been learning a new language, relocating to a new location, or learning the new lifestyle. It is missing the old, familiar feeling of embracing his three children after a long day.

“I have three kids,” said Lopez. “They are with family back in Puerto Rico. They have come and seen Colorado and they love it. The mountains are much different than the island for them. I really miss them. Every time they leave, I look forward to when I can next see them again.”

With less than a year of operational active-duty under his belt, Lopez said he focuses on doing his job the best way he knows how, for his family’s benefit. Lopez uses his prior experiences as a teacher to not only absorb the new information that comes with being a fresh-out-of-technical-training security forces defender, but also to make sure the Airmen coming in after him develop into a subject matter experts.

“I want to learn the job first, but then I want to help the new troops,” Lopez said. “I want to use my past experiences to help my people reach their best. I succeed when my squadron succeeds.”

Lopez’s love for education brought him from teaching in the classrooms of Puerto Rico to defending America’s Fortress. Wearing the uniform comes with intense feelings, he said.

“I’m so proud to wear this uniform,” said Lopez. “I think, at this moment, I am more excited to wear this uniform than when my universities gave me my diplomas. I have more of a commitment right now.”

Editor’s note: This is part three of a five-part series highlighting Hispanic Airmen for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui