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News > ¿Donde está el avión perdido? Sergeant Barrera knows
Staff Sgt. Barrera employed his Spanish-speaking skills during a search and rescue operation
Staff Sgt. José Barrera, senior air defense technician with the 601st Air & Space Operations Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., performs his daily mission in ‘America’s AOC.’ Sergeant Barrera employed his Spanish-speaking skills during a search and rescue operation between Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and the Mexican Rescue Coordination Center Oct. 15, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Steve Burke)
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¿Donde está el avión perdido? Sergeant Barrera knows

Posted 11/4/2010   Updated 11/4/2010 Email story   Print story


11/4/2010 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- An aircraft is overdue at its scheduled landing site. It has American passengers aboard and is on a humanitarian mission to Mexico. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center calls Mexican rescue officials for help in locating the aircraft. The problem? Neither rescue entity has someone available who speaks Spanish and English.

Enter Staff Sgt. José Barrera, senior air defense technician with the 601st Air & Space Operations Center, collocated with the AFRCC. On Oct. 15 when a call went out to the operations floor to see if anyone on duty that evening could speak Spanish, Sergeant Barrera immediately came to the aid of the AFRCC and Mexican controllers.

"I had translated for them a few times in the past, so I was familiar with the type of information they needed and what I needed to pass along," said Sergeant Barrera.

The scenario went something like this: a Beechcraft plane was carrying members of the "Flying Samaritans," a volunteer organization made up of physicians, nurses, dentists, pilots and translators who provide free medical care to people in rural areas of Mexico. When the plane failed to reach its destination, accompanying members on the humanitarian mission contacted the AFRCC's 24/7 rescue hotline.

"Once we established contact with Mexican Rescue Coordination Center, I identified myself as a translator for the AFRCC and explained that we were in the process of investigating a missing aircraft out of California on a humanitarian mission," said Sergeant Barrera. "After taking down all the details, the MRCC controller said that they had no reports of trouble or emergency beacon alerts in that area, but search efforts would start immediately."

Searchers located the crash site of the Flying Samaritans aircraft Oct. 17, approximately one mile southeast of Soledad Bay in Baja, Mexico. Sadly, there were no survivors.

"The AFRCC needed to provide timely information to the Mexican Rescue Coordination Center and sought out Sergeant Barrera to help translate," said Lt. Col. Bob Russell, AFRCC director of operations. "His assistance with translation between the MRCC and the AFRCC was absolutely invaluable in locating the crash site of the missing aircraft. Although this mission didn't yield a positive outcome, it did highlight the importance of rapid information flow with our Mexican counterparts."

On routine days, Sergeant Barrera's duties include maintaining communication and situational awareness between the Continental U.S. NORAD region's Eastern and Western air defense sectors and the AOC, but on this particular day, he earned an additional job title of translator.

Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, Sergeant Barrera spent his high school days running for United High School's cross country team. In 2000, he joined the Air Force and transitioned to the Air National Guard. He became a member of the 601st AOC in 2007.

Sergeant Barrera took the Air Force Defense Language Proficiency test for Spanish in 2000 and is rated as native reader, listener and translator.

"I grew up in a border town, which is where I learned to speak Spanish," said Sergeant Barrera. "I was the first in my family to be born in America."

"The AOC has a 'One Team, One Fight' mentality," said Lt. Col. David Garner, 601st AOC Combat Operations Division deputy chief. "Sergeant Barrera is a sharp Airman who saw an opportunity to help out another section and jumped in, and we're proud to have him as a member of the AOC."

The 601st AOC, often referred to as 'America's AOC,' is responsible for detecting, deterring, defending and if necessary, defeating any aviation threat to the citizens of the continental United States and to U.S. critical infrastructure.

The AFRCC is the single agency responsible for coordinating all on-land federal search and rescue activities in the 48 contiguous United States; with the additional responsibility for providing SAR assistance to Canada and Mexico. Since January 2010, AFRCC has been involved in saving 501 lives, ranging from locating flood victims and missing/overdue aircraft and personnel to providing cell phone and radar forensic data to search and rescue teams.

"I feel blessed that I am able to help people through my Spanish," said Sergeant Barrera. "I try to put myself in the shoes of the family members and friends of the missing people. If I can assist a mission through my translations and either help save a life or at least bring closure to a family member, then it's all worth it."

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