Dominican American Airman shares family story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Julia Santiago
  • 108th Wing

As a Dominican American in the New Jersey Air National Guard, Senior Airman Kevin Gonzalez-Luis is a part of the 14 percent of Hispanic Airmen in the U.S. Air Force, according to the Department of Defense Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.


“My mother always taught me about my Dominican heritage,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “It was important to her that I know where I come from. I grew up learning everything about the history of the Dominican Republic. I am proud of the culture, and I am extremely proud to be a military member of Hispanic heritage.”


Initially drawn in by the Air National Guard’s education benefits, Gonzalez-Luis serves as a member of the 108th Force Support Squadron’s installation personnel readiness office. Always encouraged by his mother to pursue higher education, Gonzalez-Luis was open and looking for opportunities available to him. Being a first generation American citizen, Gonzalez-Luis shares this common story with many other children of immigrant parents in the U.S.


“‘Always do the right thing when no one is looking. Always try to help. You might have a bad day, but there’s always someone out there who has it worse than you do.’ These are the things my mom always told me growing up and they are what I live by today,” said Gonzalez-Luis.


As young adults, Gonzalez-Luis’s parents came to the U.S. from the Domincan Republic in the 1990s with the hope of better opportunities. Their family grew with the addition of two sons and two daughters. His parents are no longer together, but both continue to support him and his siblings.


“I was born here in New York, and my parents were always working hard for us,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “They wanted to make sure that we got used to the culture here because they didn’t speak the language and wanted us to advance more than they did. They always reminded us to ‘remember where your roots are.’”


“When she first came to America, my mom was able to get visas and start working jobs in a factory,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “She worked her way up, and eventually opened up her own business with my step father, which was a corner store in Newark, N.J. They sold that business and would move on to open a bigger supermarket in New Brunswick. Their hard work and determination inspires me to work hard in my life.”


With the work ethic that his mom inspired, Gonzalez-Luis’s puts in long hours to help his office accomplish important work. The members of the installation personnel readiness section are no strangers to tight deadlines and high volumes of work vital to wing members.


“We are in charge of anything with readiness and deployments,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “When a mobilization or deployment comes through our office, we have to work with various agencies to include medical, finance, and logistics. When we’re not mobilizing people, we’re handling readiness and making sure members are on top of their CBTs [computer-based training]. In case the wing does get activated, we can get people out of the door right away.”


In 2018, the 108th Wing was tapped to mobilize and about 280 Airmen deployed to various locations.


“It was my first experience dealing with mobilizations and working with teams down range to see what they needed from us at the wing,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “It was also my first time working with the UDMs [unit deployment manager] to make sure they got their people spun up the correct way. It was an intense six to seven months for us here.”


With a strong work ethic and achieving a level of financial stability, Gonzalez-Luis’s mom continued to pursue more of her goals.


“My mom didn’t settle with the supermarket,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “She wanted to do work that she was passionate about and decided to go to cosmetology school. She is now a certified cosmetologist and opened up her own salon.”


Similarly to his mom, Gonzalez-Luis is pursuing his passion for cars with a career in automotive technology during his off time when he’s not working full time with the 108th Wing.


“Every Saturday and off Friday, I’m at my part-time job at the Acura dealership working on cars,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “I’m working on receiving my certifications in automotive technology one by one, which the dealership sends me to and covers. Hopefully one day when I’m fully licensed and insured, I’ll open up my personal [automotive] shop.”


With almost no knowledge on how to fix cars, Gonzalez-Luis started with basic oil changes and tire rotations at the car dealership. Slowly, here and there, the other technicians would teach him during their down time.


“I like being able to move and expand my knowledge on things,” said Gonzalez-Luis. “I wasn't aware at first that you could start in one career field in the military and cross-train somewhere else that may help you to expand your experiences. For myself, I plan on cross-training into vehicle maintenance because I’m a mechanic by trade. I feel like I could use that experience that I gain and transfer it to when I do open up my shop.”


Even though he did not go to college like planned, Gonzalez-Luis plans to pass on his education benefits to his kids when he qualifies for them.