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Laura Austin Photo / Lalo Flores, a Retired US Air Force Airman

Veteran reflects on his service for Armed Forces Day

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–

Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May. This day is reserved to honor men and women who have sworn an oath to defend our country. When the Armed Forces were unified under one department, the Department of Defense, the single-day celebration was formed on August 31, 1949, to replace separate Army, Navy, and Air Force Days.

Lalo Flores, a Retired US Air Force Airman, says, “For anybody that’s not completely sure of their life, what to do with it, I think the Armed Forces is a great opportunity to get you a jumpstart in life because you’re going to get your schooling done, you’re going to get help to buy a home. It’s going to set a structure for you in the future. So even if you don’t want to stay and do 20-plus years, if you just want to do four years, it’s going to change your life. There’s no other thing you can do to set you up for success. And the friends that you make there, they’re gonna be your family forever.”

Flores was a young man with a wife and child, working three jobs and not getting by. His daycare bill was higher than his combined income. His in-laws were retired military and they advised him. They had been involved with the three branches of the military and found that the Air Force was the most family-oriented.

Flores signed up and joined Supply, which later became called Material Management. This was the year 2000. Then 9/11 happened and Operation Iraqi Freedom, later called Operation Enduring Freedom. He was reassigned to Security Forces stateside, of which Flores says, “I became a cop.”

During his 21 years in the service, Flores was deployed eight times. During his deployment, he went back to work in Supply.  On his first deployment, his base went from a population of 500 people to 2500 practically overnight. There were American, British, and Australian forces. His first deployment was supposed to be for three months, but it turned out to be eight months.

Although he was in support of combat, for most of his deployments, there was no physical danger, just very high stress. When he was deployed in Africa, things were more dicey. Flores explains that the bases where he supported aircraft are kept far from the combat zone. However, for his deployment in Africa, he had to undergo training on how to survive being a hostage. There were two bases in Africa, about 25 miles from each other. Between the bases was extreme poverty; if they stopped, they would be deluged with one to 200 people begging for water and supplies. Villagers would throw rocks at their vehicles. “That was one of the most challenging deployments I ever done because it was literally three of us supporting two different bases.”

However, there was a bit of unexpected fun in Africa that Flores says you won’t hear about on national news. Nearby in Africa was a Chinese base. “We used to have soccer tournament games between the US and China.”

Reentry into civilian life was a struggle. During his time in the military, friendships emerged easily due to shared experiences. Other than that, Flores had kept himself isolated. Building friendships in civilian life has not been so straightforward. “The connection is different. It’s outside the military. We need to understand people a little bit better and listen. In the military you could kind of relate with the folks that are there like you;  understand what they’re going through because you’re going through the same things. Outside of the military, everybody’s going through different things and you have to sit down and understand what people are going through in life to be able to connect with them better or just be there with them. That’s something I’m still learning now, I think just being a little bit more diverse with accepting people more for who they are without making assumptions or guessing what they’re feeling. I’ve become a little bit more of a social bug than ever before. I knew I had to do something kind of because I knew my disconnection with people was there. And even today, it is a little bit challenging, but I’ve gotten better since I started working a civilian job.” 

Flores is known as the founder of Ridgecrest Glow Nights. He says, “That became a way of communicating and connecting with people.” Our community benefits from Flores’ journey to a more fulfilling life.