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More than just a rose: The story of TSgt Otero

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Jan K. Valle
  • 435th Air Expeditionary Wing

Roses are considered to be a symbol of love and romance, but for Tech. Sgt. Victor M. Otero Jr., aircrew flight equipment technician for the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, they means way more than that.

Otero’s duties at CLDJ include rigging parachutes and survival equipment so that the battlefield Airmen can perform their job safely and effectively thus making sure their equipment is fully functional.

“For my job we pack up the parachutes, maintain and take care of them so that we know they are in working order,” said Otero.  “We make sure they are safe to open and we also pack up the reserves, which are the backup parachute.”

Otero started his military career when he first enlisted in the Marine Corps over 20 years ago and then transferred to the Air Force reserves after his 4- year Marine Corps contract ended. Now he is planning to retire in the Air National Guard for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. Otero describes how challenging the job can be and especially for an experienced worker like himself.

“For this job you have to be in shape and take care of yourself because a lot of people break down in this type of industry,” said Otero. “I’m going to be 43 this month so I go through the struggles many people would have at this age and it’s very taxing.”

Not only does Otero fight for his country, but he also sacrificed a part of his lung, a surgery that dates back to his days as a Marine.

“I had a cousin who had cystic fibrosis two years into my service as a Marine,” said Otero. “After that, I opted to be a living lung donor, the doctors took my right inferior lobe and it became her right lung.”

Otero mentioned that daily tasks can be challenging due to this surgery but through strength and perseverance, Otero was able to push forward and overcome any obstacles that came his way.

“I still had to run a three mile PT test for the Marine Corps,” said Otero. “Instead of getting medically boarded, I had to show that I am still able to serve and run, just do what I got to do.”

Otero’s family was struggling to pay for his cousin’s transplant surgery, so he decided to host a fundraiser to pay for the surgery. The name of the campaign stemmed from a story Otero heard of a little boy that could not say “cystic fibrosis” so instead he said “sixty-five roses.”

“It started when I gathered people to donate artwork, especially paintings of roses, and then we would compile them,” said Otero. “Back then, it was just money to raise for my cousin. After my cousin’s surgery, she was still with us and we decided to expand this fundraiser to help other people or other children that may be in the same situation.”

Otero explained that within the past year he wanted to expand this campaign that he started over 20 years ago and spread awareness at Camp Lemonnier. He even made a custom patch that has a mix of his campaign name and a military feel to it.

“We have a set of paintings that we brought out from Tucson,” said Otero. “We wanted to have different activities with them and one of them is to have the battlefield Airmen jump out with the paintings and when we get home I’ll auction them off and put them around for the community.”

In Tucson, Otero is very involved with the hot rod and muscle car groups and he plans to work with them more often to support his campaign.

“We did car shows back home during the holidays where we had a toy drive for kids,” said Otero. “We plan on going to the drag strip with the paintings that the BAs jumped with and then auctioning them off to raise funds for this campaign.”

The campaign may be named after Cystic Fibrosis, but Otero describes it as open to anyone who needs a helping hand.

“The campaign raises awareness for Cystic Fibrosis but we also help families if they are struggling,” said Otero. “We want families to know that this is a second outlet for those who need help starting over and as long as they come and talk to us we will put something together to raise funds for them.”

Otero describes how a story of roses can now be used as a symbol to support a greater cause. Otero recognizes this as one of the biggest accomplishments in his career.

“For example, that’s how I got the name for this campaign and when somebody donates they get a canvas of a rose that they can further use as a gift,” said Otero. “That’s the thing about roses, there’s so much meaning to them and different stories that people have with them.”