Hanscom Airman takes road less traveled

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Life has not always been easy for Airman 1st Class Louis A. Ortiz, an administration specialist for the C3I and Networks Directorate, who is in the first year of a six-year enlistment.

Ortiz grew up in Schenectady, New York, “in an area that wasn’t such a great place.” After completing middle school, he moved to Troy, New York, with his mother, two sisters and four brothers.

After moving, Ortiz said things were not going very well for him at school or at home.

“I didn’t have any motivation and there was nothing positive happening in my life,” he said.

Ortiz found his motivation through a desire to finish high school early.

“There was so much going on at home that I wanted to finish high school and move out on my own,” he said.

To graduate early, he needed to take night classes, something his guidance counselors discouraged him from doing because the “environment was not very good.” Ortiz said his grades were not great either, adding to the counselors’ skepticism.

Together they made a deal that if his grades improved, he could pursue early graduation.

“I got into the night program the year after and was able to complete it,” Ortiz said, graduating in 2011.

“Completing high school a year early was a big accomplishment for me. I had a lot of people who doubted me,” he said.

After graduating high school, he got a job in retail. However, Ortiz was looking to do something more.

“I have always been interested in working on computers,” he said. “My sister told me about an IT program that the Job Corps offered.”

According to its website, the Job Corps is a free education and training program, administered by the U.S Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 through 24 improve the quality of their lives through vocational and academic training.

“I originally thought the Job Corps helped people finish high school,” Ortiz said. “But they offer so much more through other training.”

After acceptance into the Job Corps program, Ortiz went to the Loring Job Corps program in Caribou, Maine.

“After being enrolled in the program for a year, the certification program I was enrolled in closed,” he said. “While I was disappointed by this, I was able to transfer to Edison, New Jersey, and enter into a more advanced Job Corps IT program.”

While in the program in New Jersey, Ortiz learned how to build computers and install software.

He also met retired Master Sgt. Robert Slaughter and Master Sgt. Shareef Cleveland, who remains in the Air Force, while enrolled in the program. Slaughter had graduated from the Job Corps before enlisting in the Air Force.

“Both told me stories about how the Air Force helped them and how blessed they were to have the support of the Air Force family throughout their careers,” he said. “It was something I was interested in.”

Ortiz explained that even though Slaughter was retired from a service-connected injury, he was always so positive.

"I was inspired by his attitude," Ortiz said. “His stories inspired me to do something different and make a difference.”

With graduation from the IT program only days away, Ortiz was offered his dream job in the IT department at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York.

"It was everything I had dreamed of and everything I had been working to achieve,” he said. “The offer included good pay, free tuition and benefits.”

Ortiz declined the offer.

"I wanted to enlist in the Air Force as I thought it was a better opportunity for me," he said. “I thought that if I had gone home to New York, I would lose everything that I had worked so hard to achieve.”

This past February, Ortiz went to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to attend basic training.

“The Job Corps program defintely helped me succeed in basic training,” he said. “The structure of the Job Corps is very similar to that of the Air Force.”

After basic training, the young airman went to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, for technical training. After graduating from there, he was assigned to Hanscom.

Ortiz said that, at first, he had some trouble adapting to an environment where people are constantly doing well, worried that perhaps he didn’t quite fit in.

“But it’s getting better,” he said. “I love that I am able to use some of the skills I learned through the Job Corps in the Air Force and look forward to what future holds for me.”

Ortiz said that when he finishes his career development course for five-level upgrade training, he intends to begin working on his bachelor’s degree in January. He also said he would like to volunteer in the community helping others.

"I've done something with myself. I'm using my skills in a way that benefits me and the Air Force," he said. “I’d like to help others in similar ways.”