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Hispanic Heritage Month Profile – Chaplain Mathew Ortega

Lt. Col. Mathew Ortega, a chaplain in Joint Force Headquarters who originally enlisted in the Marine Corps as an infantryman in 1998.

Why did you decide to join? Do you come from a military family?
I come from a military family. My grandfather served during WWII. I have Uncles, cousins, and my father-in-law that served during Vietnam. Three of my kids are now serving. I have a Marine, Sailor, and a Soldier. You are welcome recruiting. ūüėä

But the real reason I joined was because of a Marine recruiter in high school. His name was Gunnery Sgt. Paz. He was the sharpest guy I had ever seen in my life and so I thought…if the Marine Corps can do that for me, I am in. So, I enlisted in the Marine Corps.

What has been your favorite moment or part of serving? Why is it important that you serve?
Several reasons…First, I am an American loving patriot. I love the freedom and opportunities our country affords its citizens. Second, I thoroughly enjoy the comradery. There is nothing like serving alongside service men and women. The laughter, the experiences…It is great! Third, but definitely not last, as a Chaplain I get to minister to some of the greatest people on the planet. It is a real joy of mine to do all that I can for the spiritual wellbeing of those I serve alongside and their families.

Favorite quote or saying?
‚ÄúThings turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.‚ÄĚ
-John Wooden, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player and coach

What makes you proud of your heritage?
My cultural upbringing was Hispanic. I grew up in my grandparents’ home. They grew up in small towns. My grandfather in Southern Colorado and my grandmother in New Mexico. The one thing I can say about my family and all the other Latinos I have known throughout my life is that they are hard workers. They are not afraid to work and will sacrifice just about anything to meet the needs of their family. For example, my grandfather and my grandmother…She was a traditional woman who managed the home. They had five children and did not own a car. Yet my grandfather worked two jobs to support his family. How did he get to work? Walking and hitchhiking. He did this for several years before he was finally able to secure a vehicle. Another example is my grandfather and his brothers, they lied about their age during WWII so that they could not only serve, but so that they could send their pay checks home to their parents to help make things easier on them in their absence.

What does this observance mean to you? How have you celebrated?
To be honest, whenever there is a cultural awareness month, I marvel at God’s greatness and goodness to humanity. Being a Bible believing Christian, I understand that in God’s creation of people, though we are unique in color, languages and other areas, our worth as people, regardless of the latter, is found in that we are all made in the image of God. This is the one commonality that is true for every person who has ever and will ever live.

How has your heritage influenced your time in the Maryland National Guard?
Growing up in a Hispanic home and in a diverse part of Denver helped me to appreciate people more. I grew up around Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, and Vietnamese. I love the fact that the military is so diverse. The Maryland Guard has allowed me to meet some great people from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Philippines. It has been a very cool experience to get to know them and has helped me to learn more about people and their cultures.

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