Mi casa es su casa
Hispanic heritage instills hard work, importance of inclusion for veteran Airman
Story by Capt. Jordyn Craft, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
COLUMBUS, Ohio (10/14/2021)
’Mi casa es su casa’ (a Spanish phrase that means ‘my house is your house’) is one tradition that is strongly embodied into our lifestyle. We welcome everyone.
Lt. Col. Albito Lopez, a communications officer and 33-year veteran of the Air Force and Ohio Air National Guard, learned the value of family and hard work from his parents, who moved to the United States from Puerto Rico as children in the 1950s.
Lopez’s childhood was driven by the dreams and determination of his parents, who met in their early 20s and set roots down in Lorain, Ohio. They had five children and started a business from the ground up, Lopez Market, even though neither of them finished high school. More than 40 years later, the store is still successfully operating and owned by the family.
“My dad was the hardest worker I have ever met. He’d get up early to tend to his acreage before opening up the store at 8 a.m., seven days a week. My mom was also a huge part of the store’s success,” Lopez said. “By kindergarten, my siblings and I stacked pop bottles and then by our teens we were running the business while our parents spent more time managing their hobby farm and raising animals.”
Because of the heavy recruitment of Puerto Rican workers by area steel mills in the 1950s, there was a large Hispanic population in Lorain, which made fitting in and making friends easy for a young Lopez. To stay in touch with their Hispanic roots, his parents bought a winter home in Puerto Rico where the family visited every holiday.
“The holidays were the best, witnessing neighbors going house to house around midnight singing Christmas songs and playing instruments,” Lopez said. “It was only after the homeowner would open up his house and let them in for drinks and snacks, they would join the procession on to the next house. It was amazing.”
Back in Ohio, extended family gatherings and community togetherness were a huge part of growing up Puerto Rican. His parents also instilled the importance of family at an early age, which has carried on to Lopez’s own life as a husband of 17 years and father to four boys, ages 11-15. Lopez tries his best to blend aspects of Hispanic culture into his life and career of service, both in and out of uniform.
“’Mi casa es su casa’ (a Spanish phrase that means ‘my house is your house’) is one tradition that is strongly embodied into our lifestyle. We welcome everyone,” Lopez said. “Although today, it is harder to ingrain into our weekly routines, especially with COVID-19 and the demands of work and life.”
Lopez’s civilian and military service has also played a huge role in developing who he is over the last 30 years, not only as an officer in the Ohio Air National Guard, but also as a 27-year veteran of the Akron Police Department.
In 1988, Lopez enlisted in the Air Force as a ground radio electronic technician, and was assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for his first duty station. There he was promoted early, or commonly known as “below the zone” to the rank of buck sergeant (equivalent to an E-4), which was a responsibility rank phased out by the Air Force soon after.
“My intent was to serve four years and get out but I really enjoyed my time on active duty, so I decided to continue my military career with the Ohio National Guard,” said Lopez, who went on to join the 220th Engineering Installation Squadron, based in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1992. “I promised myself I’d also complete my bachelor’s degree upon my release from active duty and enrolled at the University of Akron using the education benefits offered by the National Guard. I graduated in May 1998.”
A common theme of service has been ingrained in Lopez’s life starting in his childhood by his parents and then expanded after joining the military and Akron Police Department. It was here that his Hispanic heritage enhanced his ability to help the local community.
“As one of the few Hispanic police officers, I had the unique opportunity to assist with Akron’s Spanish-speaking community and have volunteered to teach English as a second language through a program called Project Rise,” Lopez said.
According to the Akron Public Schools’ website, Project Rise is a collaborative effort between the school district, local shelters and the Akron community to provide supplemental educational services to children and youth experiencing homelessness, with the goal to remove historical educational barriers for homeless youth.
For Lopez, his National Guard service helped him balance the mental demands of being a full-time police officer and, in return, provided training that supported growth in both careers.
“Being in law enforcement can be mentally draining. The best part of being in the Guard is that it provides a break from the rigors of law enforcement and vice versa,” Lopez said. “Both of my careers provide much-needed relief from one another and great training from both sides has enhanced my people skills. They both focus on treating people with respect and dignity.”
Service to country, state and community
The values learned through his careers have benefited Lopez throughout nine different deployments during his 33 years in the military. His wife and family are incredibly proud of Lopez and have helped to keep him grounded throughout training events, combat deployments and domestic response missions to dozens of countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, as well as multiple activations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I enjoy being called to duty. It’s the greatest honor to serve your country, state and community,” said Lopez, who especially cherishes when he was able to deploy to Puerto Rico, the very place he spent holidays as a child, to help after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017.
“As we drove site to site and town to town, witnessing firsthand the results of a Category 5 hurricane, we saw the resilient people collecting water from different water sources, running generators, and still loving and embracing life,” Lopez said. “Seeing the resilience in the people, especially with my Hispanic heritage, was amazing. The best part was that I was able to visit with my aunt and uncle and check in on my parents’ home in Puerto Rico.”
However, the proudest Lopez has ever been to serve in uniform was when he was called to support COVID-19 efforts for more than 100 days on three different missions.
“I was never prouder than after 30 years, to support the state of Ohio during the Ohio National Guard COVID-19 and civil unrest missions. I have been to about 30 countries but, until these past few years, not one Ohio mission,” said Lopez, who had a personal motivation for supporting the COVID-19 mission, as he lost his mother to the coronavirus. “The reason for the missions was not satisfying, because the impact of COVID is so devastating, but to see the Guard respond with such determination, professionalism and vision when Ohio needed it most was impressive.”
Diversity makes us better
Lopez said he firmly believes that people in the military never stop learning and growing, whether through processes, interactions with various people or working with different branches of service. And as a Hispanic, interaction with people of different backgrounds is key to this philosophy.
“Hispanic Heritage Month makes me proud to be Hispanic and reminds me of the responsibility I have to promote cultural awareness for all heritages,” Lopez said. “Everybody should take pride in their culture and accept and respect all cultures. A month celebration for Hispanic heritage triggers awareness of the diversity of this great country and how all of us working together can make it even better.”
Lopez said he is proud to be many things — father, husband, Airman, police officer and Hispanic.