Winds of change: Hurricane leads mechanic into AF career

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Rebecca Abordo

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - Staff Sgt. Fernando Carrasquillo Morales, a vehicle mechanic with 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron, had no idea Hurricane Maria would change the course of his life.

Before the CAT 5 hurricane struck his town in 2017, the Puerto Rican native was a mechanic supporting his wife and son. The hurricane destroyed his mechanic business, so he volunteered to fix damaged EMS vehicles.

“The small amount of money I was making was just enough to buy more fuel for our generator,” he said. “It was just an endless cycle of getting by.”

Water submerged his mother’s house and left his family with next to nothing.

“My neighbors helped my mom out of her house by floating on her refrigerator,” he recalled. “She lost everything in her house…everything.”

After months of no power or communications in the country, Carrasquillo decided it was time for a change.

The mechanic found the only Air Force recruiter in Puerto Rico, who was also evacuated due to Hurricane Maria. Carrasquillo passed the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and was slotted for basic military training. Though there were many language barriers, he was determined to make it in the Air Force at 36 years old as a vehicle mechanic.

“We don’t speak a lot of English in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I studied harder than ever.”

He worked through the language challenge at BMT by relying on his wingmen for translation aid. Later, he took English and grammar courses to develop his writing and speech.

While Carrasquillo attended BMT in 2018, another hurricane hit Puerto Rico where his family was still located. As soon as he completed his formal training, he moved them to the United States.

“It was really stressful flying back and forth from Puerto Rico. My wife was so scared of the changes,” he said. “I loved the change, because I needed a challenge.”

Morales began his Air Force career as a vehicle mechanic here in January 2019. Being at Eglin allowed him to visit his extended family in Orlando.

After working on vehicles for most of his life, Carrasquillo Morales was determined to become a stellar Air Force mechanic.

“He was phenomenal in knocking his training out,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Endress, a 96th LRS heavy equipment section chief, who helped the Airman upon arrival. “This guy’s got more experience than I do.”

Carrasquillo Morales came to the U.S. with a wealth of knowledge on vehicle mechanics, but it was a challenge to adapt to Air Force standards.

“I’ve been working on vehicles my entire life. In Puerto Rico, we used to work on all types of cars from exotics to off roaders,” he said. “[At Eglin], we’re working on lots of off road and heavy equipment.”

After nine months of intense training and studying, he completed nine mechanical certifications, earning the title of a master technician. This type of training usually takes more than a year to complete, but he was committed to expediating it.

These certifications qualify the Airman to work on a wide variety of vehicles in any shop, making him a unique asset to the service. Being certified in vehicle mechanics allows him to supervise and teach other Airmen. His priority is pushing the Airmen in his shop to challenge themselves and earn their certifications.

“These certifications allow me to help other people,” he said. “That’s how I do everything in my life. I always want to help people.”

He’s now working on diesel vehicle certifications and was selected to instruct vehicle maintenance at his technical school in Port Hueneme, California. In October, he will start his new assignment as an instructor at the 344th Training Squadron’s Detachment 1.

“My experience here has been perfect,” he said, reflecting on his time in the military. “I have a secure employer, and they’ve helped me with everything.”

During his free time, the mechanic enjoys working on his own vehicles with his 15-year-old son, who wants to follow his father in joining the Air Force.