ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. | It’s Sunday morning, and the Black Hills Chapel is open for services. As Airmen and their families enter the chapel, they notice the meticulous care put into the place of worship’s appearance. Sunlight passing through the stained glass windows glistens off the freshly waxed pews creating an inviting atmosphere. The lectern toward the front is adorned with seasonal reminders of holiday joy to come. As the patrons take their seats, they look up and see a tall, brown-haired minister prepared for the sermon. Chaplain (1st Lt.) Raidel Leon-Martinez stands with a large smile and chock-full of compassion.
“Ever since coming to the United States from Cuba, I have always wanted to join the military,” Leon-Martinez said. “I’m an ordained minister, so being a chaplain was just the best way for me to go for joining.”
Leon-Martinez spent the first 19 years of his life living in Cuba. He remembers the hardships of his youth, but believes they made him a stronger and more resilient person.
“I grew up in a very poor family,” Leon-Martinez said. “We did not have money for soccer shoes, and my friends and I would play with a flat ball. If we played baseball, we played with a rolled up sock stuffed with paper. It taught me to make solutions for problems and made me empathetic to those who face troubles like I did.”
Leon-Martinez incorporates the four pillars of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness into his life. Whether he’s working out with his squadron or continuing his education, he believes they are essential to an Airmen’s success at work and at home.
“I spend as much time with my family and friends as I can, but it’s good to give yourself some alone time,” Leon-Martinez said. “As far as spiritual resiliency is concerned, I pray very often but I also look within myself to solve moral dilemmas. My mental resiliency comes from always continuing to learn. It’s important to continue your education whether in school or just through experiences with people.”
Leon-Martinez believes in the core values of the Air Force. He chose the Air Force because of its code of ethics and the faith placed in Airmen.
“My country has given me so much,” said the minister. “Even if I served 30 years, I don’t think I would have repaid what has been given to me by the United States. Most of what I am today is attributed to the opportunities that have been given to me by this country.”
The chapel staff of the 28th Bomb Wing experience Leon-Martinez’s character first hand and have difficulty describing him in a way that brings his qualities to light.
“He is outgoing and professional,” said Staff Sgt. Brendan Sparks, a the noncommissioned officer in charge of plans and programs assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing chapel. “If someone asked me to describe his character, I wouldn’t know how to do it because there are just too many ways to describe him.”
Sparks believes Leon-Martinez embodies the Air Force core values and knows that he would help others without hesitation.
“He walks around with open arms to the community,” Sparks said. “He does the same for us. He is constantly giving back to the base and making sure that everyone is heard and cared for.”
When an Airmen needs help, he puts them first.
“It is the most important thing about our job,” Leon-Martinez said. “As a chaplain, I owe it to Airmen to have an open schedule to help solve their issues.”
Leon-Martinez came to the U.S. to enjoy the freedoms that are given to its citizens. He wanted to express himself and practice his religious beliefs freely. He explained that he truly loves this country and the ability to make decisions free of persecution.
“I came here to enjoy the rights given by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Leon-Martinez said. “In Cuba it can be difficult to exercise your religious beliefs, but here we can practice them how and when we choose. This country has given me everything that I love. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve in the Air Force and to work with these Airmen. I’m thankful for the ability to wake up to a loving family in a country where I am free to do my best and enjoy my life.”