Father-son duo comes full circle at BMT graduation, retirement

  • Published
  • By Jeremy Gerlach
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Public Affairs
In the Air Force, countless parents have proudly watched their child graduate from basic military training, and countless children have seen their parents retire from service.

On May 27 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, a father and son did both on the same day, respectively. Col. Hernando J. Ortega, Jr., the Air Education and Training Command Aerospace Medicine Division chief, watched his son, Airman 1st Class Hernando J. Ortega III, graduate from BMT before their family headed downtown for his retirement ceremony at the Alamo that afternoon.

"I think he’s got a lot of potential," Ortega Jr. said of his son. "He’ll have to step up and take all the opportunities that are given to him to move forward, but I know that he’s going to do great things."

Ortega Jr., who joined the Air Force in 1986, served in Germany, South Korea and Houston and worked for NASA as a flight surgeon. He’s also been stationed at the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency and various units at AETC since 2007.

After three years in college, Ortega III decided he wanted to follow a similar career path as his father.

"I wanted to change things up in my life -- I wanted to have a career instead of working odd jobs as a civilian," said Ortega III, who’ll be following in his father’s footsteps in the space system operations field. "I’d like to someday work for NASA."

When the pair realized that Ortega Jr.’s retirement date -- set for his 30-year career marker -- would coincide with Ortega III’s graduation, the entire family planned to celebrate.

Celebrating Air Force achievements is common for the Ortega family, according to Ortega III’s mother, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Holly Ortega, who served for 28 years.

"This makes me very proud," Holly said of her son and husband. "This has been a great opportunity for us to celebrate."

Besides Ortega III, the couple has two more children who may soon join the ranks of the armed forces. One of their children recently graduated from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio with an ROTC scholarship.

"Other people might think a day like this is shocking, but we’re used to this lifestyle," Holly continued. "For us, this is normal -- it’s just the closure of a circle in our family history."

That circle was evident as father and son embraced on the parade field after the BMT ceremonies ended. The pair shared a touching first salute as each offered congratulations to the other.

"It’s comforting to know that as I retire, my son will be able to stay in the Air Force and carry on my work," Ortega Jr. said.

Ortega III plans not to take this path for granted.

"It’s kind of intimidating to be following someone who’s been here for 30-plus years," Ortega III said. "But I’m up for it."