Faith. Education. Dedication.
When young Paul Fontanez commissioned as a United States Marine Corps officer in 1984, those were the pillars he relied on during his service. Today, those pillars remain strong for the now-Dr. Paul Fontanez, Deputy Director for Architecture Assessment at the Missile Defense Agency.
Every year between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 the nation recognizes the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans on the history, culture and achievements of the United States. This year the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center will host Fontanez as the keynote speaker for Team Redstone’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month observance which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be a virtual event shared on the center’s Facebook page.
“This month honors those Americans of Hispanic descent who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Fontanez said. “It recognizes the tremendous contributions that Hispanic Americans have made since the founding of our nation and continue to make today in the areas of STEM -- science, technology, engineering, mathematics -- business and the arts; and it acknowledges that the tapestry of our nation is made strong by including, valuing and honoring the diverse cultures, heritages and backgrounds of those who serve in the DOD. That includes Hispanic Americans -- as well as Americans from all backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and creeds.”
The theme of this year’s observance is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” which Fontanez said has been sorely needed during the past two years of the pandemic.
“Esperanza is a beautiful Spanish word. It has many meanings including expectation, prospect, anticipation, promise and most importantly: hope,” he said. “It is the thought that regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in at the present, there is an expectation, a desired future state or outcome that will be better than the state we are in today.
“Every mother, every father, every grandparent carries the seed of hope in their hearts for a better future for their children, their grandchildren and their families. Esperanza is what drives us as human beings to press forward through difficulties, trials and tribulations to aim higher, go farther and reach for a better end state than the one we may find ourselves in today.”
When deciding to become a Marine, Fontanez drew on his own rich family history of service to the nation, heralding back to World War II.
“My volunteering for military service in the United States Marine Corps was a seminal moment in my life,” he shared. “Upon entering the Marine Corps at the young age of 21, I quickly identified with the warrior ethos of honor, courage and commitment. That ethos became and still remains a central part of my life and dedication to values other than self is also a key aspect of my heritage that has profoundly shaped who I am today.”
Fontanez is a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. He has also holds a Master of Science in Systems Management with Honors from Capitol Technical University, a Master of Science in Systems Engineering from George Washington University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy with an emphasis in Economic Development from George Mason University. He said that dedication to education and learning was inspired by his father.
“My father never finished the third grade,” Fontanez shared. “He grew up fatherless in the streets of New York trying to make ends meet while helping his mother support a family of 13 children towards the end of the Depression era. The lack of a higher education made my dad have to work longer and harder than the next guy to support his family. As a result, my father promised himself that he would do everything in his power to make sure that his children would have the opportunity to get the education he did not have the ability to get when growing up.
“In his 50s my father went back and was finally able to complete a GED, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and went on to teach in the public school system for several years before retiring.”
Today, Fontanez, himself the father of eight with wife Tamara, looks to the future with his own esperanza – his hope “that future generations of Hispanic Americans will remember the rich heritage of contributions made by those before them, that they will keep the faith and aspire to think of others first, and that they will pursue excellence in everything they set their hand to accomplish.”