Focus on Hispanic Heritage Month; Outstanding Chiefs Add Diversity, Excellence to Seabee Culture

(By UTCN Marlene Houngbedji)

 “Set high goals for yourself, because everything is what you make of it.”  Spoken as words of encouragement from a senior enlisted to young Seabees, this quote also summarizes the attitude three exceptional Chiefs have demonstrated through their naval careers.  Chief Construction Electrician Francisco J. Martinez (who authored the quote), Chief Construction Electrician Paul Z. Ramirez and Chief Construction Mechanic Robert R. Crespin of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 have a few traits in common: a strong commitment to excellence, dedication to the troops entrusted to their care and their Hispanic heritage.  They are three out of thousands of sailors who have positively influenced others through their achievements and exemplify this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme of ‘Many Backgrounds, Many Stories… One American Spirit.’

Chief Construction Mechanic Robert R. Crespin (left) and Chief Construction Electrician Francisco J. Martinez. Not pictured is Chief Construction Electrician Paul Z. Ramirez. More images to come soon.

 Initiated as a week of celebration under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month was expanded to thirty days (15 September to 15 October) in August 1988 to commemorate the culture and contributions of Hispanic Americans.  All three chiefs remember times when the service was slightly more segregated than it is now; when fear of the unknown prompted young sailors to only seek the company of their own.  Today, Seabees work with and even build strong friendships with people of different backgrounds. These Chiefs credit that improvement to the Navy’s intentional efforts to increase cultural awareness and diversity.

 “It’s awesome to be able to teach others about where I come from,” says Ramirez, 35, of San Antonio, Texas.  “Understanding diversity is a great learning experience for everyone and helps with integration.”  A 15-year US Navy veteran, self-proclaimed overachiever and proud Texan or Tejano, Chief Ramirez traces his family’s origins in San Luis Potosi, in Central Mexico.  Enlisting came as a natural choice to a man whose family members have fought in every major American war since World War II.  His great-grand father was a World War II US Army veteran.  His grand-father, a soldier as well, enlisted toward the end of the Korean conflict and his father, a Marine Corpsman served during both the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.  Chief Ramirez’s own outstanding career led him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Spain, Germany and San Diego with NMCB 40, to Recruiting District San Antonio, to Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering (CSFE), Sheppard Air Force Base (AFB), and to Iraq with NMCB 3.  Major accomplishments include earning a Navy and Marine Corps medal for Heroism, the second highest medal awarded by the US Navy for bravery in situations not involving combat, for saving a Japanese national’s life.  Other awards include US Navy, US Army and US Air Force Commendation Medals and four Navy Achievement Medals.  As a man who believes that every American should serve his or her country, Chief Ramirez encourages younger troops to “start where they are, use what they have and finish what they started.”  He deems important to use all that is offered to them to make the most out of their Navy careers.

 It is an opinion shared by Martinez, 33, who believes everything is what one makes of it.  “We’re the only ones responsible for our successes and failures,” says the NMCB 11’s Command Fitness Leader.  Chief Martinez’s Navy journey began 15 years ago and culminated with his induction into the Chiefs community in 2007 at the age of 28.  Two Navy Commendation Medals and four Navy Achievement Medals, including three earned while involved in Special Warfare, are among the many awards he received.  He is a skilled motorcycle rider who also practices weightlifting and enjoys playing basketball, volleyball and wrestling with his two boys.  He recounts reporting to boot camp straight from his native Carolina, Puerto Rico and speaking no English.  A driven young Seabee, he refused to allow the language barrier impede his chances of success and made a point to seize every opportunity for professional growth available to him.  “The Navy was different then,” he recalls, “it was somewhat segregated because people from the same ethnic group stuck together.”  The same was true of his first years with NMCB 133 but things began to change over time.  Having experienced culture shock and the challenges associated with adapting to an environment different than the one he grew up in, Chief Martinez can only appreciate the importance of celebrating any ethnic group active in today’s armed forces.  “It helps understand how culture impacts shipmates’ decisions and behaviors and makes working relations more productive.”

 “Getting familiar with cultures foreign to them definitely opens up troops’ minds,” agrees Crespin.  The 38-year old former detailer stresses the need to celebrate every culture represented in the US Navy.  Despite ancestry that can be traced in Spain and Mexico, he calls Price, UT home, loves hunting and fishing and just completed his 19th year as a Seabee, three of which he spent as a Chief.  A career that spans nearly two decades led him to NMCB 74, the 20th Seabee Readiness Group, NMCB 7, Navy Personnel Command and the US Navy Special Operations Group 1.  It also earned him a Joint Command Medal, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals and a Combat Action Ribbon.  “The highlight of my career was making chief,” says Chief Crespin.  “Only 10% of those who test Navy-wide make it and the fact that more minorities are reaching that level shows the Navy’s commitment to reward performance.”  He encourages junior troops to take advantage of every opportunity coming their way because a missed one may hurt a career.

 Outstanding achievements are not the only indicators of the Chiefs’ commitment to the Seabees and the US Navy.  They have managed to instill Navy pride elsewhere.  “All four of my children are expected to serve at some point in their lives,” says Chief Ramirez.   “I wouldn’t be surprised if another Chief Martinez rose through the ranks twenty years or so from now,” says Chief Martinez of his 13-year old son.  “He’s already decided he wants to be a US Navy SEAL.”

Three stories, different backgrounds but definitely one true American spirit.

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