JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
It was a routine traffic stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, because a driver’s vehicle registration was expired. However, the security forces specialist was having trouble communicating with the driver because the driver didn’t speak much English, but she did speak Spanish. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ramses Alfonso, 673d Security Forces Squadron lead patrolman and native of Cardenas, Cuba, got a call to assist and interpret. He said the driver was relieved to talk to someone in Spanish, and explained she was here from Colombia on a work visa. Ramses was able to easily sort out the situation and contact the woman’s sponsor on base.
When Ramses immigrated with his parents from Cuba to Florida in the fifth grade, he didn’t speak English, either.
“The first day I went to school, everyone was talking in English,” Ramses said with a slight Cuban accent. “I remember I went home crying because I had no idea what people were saying. I was pretty much just sitting there for hours, staring at a wall with people around me just talking.”
Not easily discouraged, Ramses said he dedicated time every day to learn English words straight from the dictionary. In middle school, Ramses took English as a Second Language classes designed to teach English to non-native speakers. He also recalled learning English through playing a PC game.
“I played ‘RuneScape’ with a buddy of mine and it forced me to learn English to interact online with other players,” Ramses said. “If I wanted to buy a sword, for example, I didn’t know the word ‘sword’ but I saw the picture of the item I wanted to purchase or sell. I correlated the image of the sword with the word on the screen.”
“Within three to four years, I had a pretty good grasp of the language,” Ramses said. “Obviously the accent is still here; it’s not going anywhere.”
Even though he didn’t know the language when he first arrived in the country, Ramses said he took advantage of AP classes offered in high school, earned college credit and graduated from high school with a 4.4 GPA. He also started dating Rosana, the woman he would later marry.
Ramses said they initially met in Florida in sixth grade, but started dating during high school after they had crossed paths in Cuba when both Ramses and Rosana were coincidentally there to visit their families.
After high school, led by an interest in law enforcement, Ramses enrolled in a program to earn an associate degree in criminal justice while concurrently going through a police academy. Unfortunately, Ramses had to withdraw from the program when his family moved.
“From 2005 until the time I joined the Air Force, we moved at least 10 times because the landlords would start increasing the rent after six months,” Ramses said after asking his mother in Spanish to verify how many times they moved.
Through all the moves, Ramses and Rosana stayed together.
“In March 2011, we started dating and we’ve been together ever since,” Ramses said. “We got married March 26, 2014, in Florida, the exact same day and month that we had our anniversary as a couple. It was just a day where we signed papers to say, ‘I’m officially with you,’ but it didn’t change any feelings. You’re still married to that same person from the beginning.”
Ramses soon got a job to support himself and his wife. Ramses said his supervisor there had been in Force Reconnaissance in the Marine Corps and would talk about his career in the military. Inspired, Ramses enlisted in the United States Air Force in May 2015.
“I finally made the choice that I’m going to go ahead and join, pretty much 10 years exactly after I immigrated here,” Ramses said.
He became a security forces specialist.
“I remember my mom always wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor, like most moms,” Ramses said as he smiled at his mom who was holding his daughter. “She found herself constantly fighting for me to go away from law enforcement because she thought it was too dangerous, and here I am. I guess if it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood.”
Ramses got orders to move to JBER after graduating technical school in February 2016 and started work with the 673d Security Forces Squadron.
“He was one of my go-to senior airmen who would enforce JBER laws, regulations and policies,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Justin Villalpando, 673d additional duty first sergeant and Ramses’s former supervisor. “I remember putting him in for three separate quarterly awards. Out of 50 Airmen in our flight, he was the number one Airman for me in those quarters.”
“When he was noncommissioned officer at base access, as a brand new supervisor, he had someone become a Diamond Sharp Award winner, and under his watch he had two Airmen who were annual Airman of the Year and one was at the Pacific Air Forces level.” Villalpando continued. “He was developing new Airmen.”
“He has a love for keeping people safe,” Villalpando said. “He surrounds himself with responsibilities and extracurricular activities to pass the law enforcement concept of safety and security to young people and the community. He has passion, drive, and dedication to make his community better, representing our unit in the right way.”
To continue advancing professionally, Ramses attended the Anchorage Police Department Academy in 2019. He spent six months completing rigorous education and training designed to teach the skills and knowledge needed to be an effective police officer. As a military member at the academy, he strengthened the partnership between JBER and local law enforcement agencies, building contacts and enhancing continuity.
Ramses graduated from the academy Dec. 5, 2019, earning the Distinguished Honor Graduate Award, Valedictorian, Top Shooter, and Top Defensive Driver in the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course. During his valedictorian speech he elicited laughter from the audience and his peers, intertwining humor in his recap of some of the training.
While he was in the academy, his daughter was born and his goals shifted to focus on what is best for his wife and daughter.
“Before I had my daughter, I was gung-ho, 100 percent, I’m staying 20 years in the military no matter what and this is all I want to do,” Ramses said. “When my wife was five or six months pregnant, I was sent on temporary duty to Guam for three weeks, which was great training. But my wife was in Alaska and our entire family is back in Florida and Georgia.”
“She was here by herself, pregnant, feeling very sick, and there I am in Guam doing training,” he continued, as he looked over at his sleeping daughter. “It made me think about what’s more important to me.”
Ramses said the experience made him more empathetic toward young Airmen under his supervision with a spouse or kids who may need additional time off work.
“At the end of the day, you’ll do 20 years in the military, get out, retire, and guess who’s going to be there?” Ramses said. “Your wife, your significant other, your family. Take care of them like you’re taking care of your career, if not more.”
Right now, Ramses said he’s not sure which direction he’s going to take with his career, but he has already planned out different options.
“I view him as a chess player,” Villalpando said. “He definitely thinks about everything he does. He’s smart with his money, mature, methodical, organized. He reaches out for advice.”
Ramses currently has two things on his mind: commissioning in the Air Force and hoping to get placed back in Security Forces, or staying in Alaska to work for the police department.
“I know in the military, you have to make sacrifices,” Ramses said. “But by becoming a commissioned officer you could impact more people than you could enlisted, because you’d have a further reach. I could make a thousand people’s lives better. That goes back to being a police officer, too. Now you have an entire city you could help out.”
When asked what he considers his greatest accomplishment in life, Ramses said he would rather recognize his mother and everything she did to bring him to this country, raising him and teaching him to be dedicated to his studies. Without her, he said he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“She’s the one who made that choice, she made that sacrifice of leaving her mother behind, her brothers and sisters, to make a better life for me,” Ramses said. “She came here and worked so my life could be better.”
Even though he grew up away from his extended family, had to learn a new language and moved frequently, Ramses views what he went through as something that gave him strength rather than a struggle because it taught him to work hard for what he wants.
“Some people might see it as, ‘Sorry you went through that stuff,’ but I see it as a strength,” Ramses said. “Fighting for everything I have made me dedicated to my goals. It motivated me to never have to live like that again, motivated me to never have my daughter have to go through that.”
His humble strength doesn’t go unnoticed.
“He doesn’t look back and say, ‘Oh I came from a poor family, from a poor neighborhood,’” Villalpando said. “He has become this Airman serving in the world’s greatest Air Force and he keeps doing great things.”