Leader Spotlight: Victor Santana
Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Victor Santana, a U.S. Air Force veteran who currently works as a cyber security analyst. Victor was born and raised in Puerto Rico and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Tell me about your military service.
I joined the U.S. Air Force in September 2003 after I finished my business management degree in Puerto Rico. I served for four years from 2003-2007 as an intelligence analyst. I spent all four years in San Antonio, Texas, which I made my home after. I joined the military to experience something else, something bigger than myself. I didn’t know how much bigger it was at the time, but I wanted to write my own story, have my own experiences that weren’t attached to anyone else but me.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
I learned about the way the U.S. military functions. I saw first hand the whole chain of command power structure and I must say that I wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t like I used to think it was. I realized that it’s not always the most intelligent people in charge.
Don’t get me wrong, I met colonels, captains, lieutenants that really led the way—but also met the people that attained their positions because they were the next in line. This made me a bit hardened and skeptical, but it also made me strive to do things that I wanted done my way at work or in my career. It made me stand up and voice my opinion on things I believed were wrong for our flight or unit or base, or for individuals who couldn’t speak up themselves. You name it, I would speak up.
It made me aware of attention to details, which I find is a good thing. It also made me proud of serving the nation, because even with all its faults, being a veteran or an active member means you’re part of a family, you’re part of only ten percent of U.S. citizens that would ever sign the dotted line.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
I feel compelled to speak up for equality. Anything that helps to drive the point that we’re all humans no matter our ideologies, religions or lack of, sexual preference, nationality, race, or anything that sets up dividers among human beings.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
Having been part of the secular community for quite some time, I strive for reason and science to be viewed as tenets of society and necessary qualities to run a well-informed, fact-based country. I believe in the first amendment, and I understand that all ideologies should be challenged, discussed, and ridiculed at will, and that no ideology deserves respect because the scrutiny of ideologies is what leads us to discard those that are wrong or harmful to society. Being a humanist on the other hand has led me to understand that people deserve respect and compassion, and to fight for equality for all humans living on this rock speeding through space.
And this is what led me to VFAI. I found an incredible organization formed by even more incredible people, fighting for humanity. The refugee crisis is one issue that has left me perplexed and saddened by the response that some Americans have voiced without regard for human life. Being part of the atheist community I know first hand what it means to be ostracized. I understand what Muslim bigotry and xenophobia can do to a person and to our society, which is why I will fight against bigotry and xenophobia any day.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
I was a veteran that didn’t know exactly what to do about the feelings I had after the election and the resurfacing of xenophobia and bigotry we experienced after 9/11. I’m still struggling to find guidance and ways I can make a difference. But it’s as simple as signing up with an organization like this, or picking up the phone or emailing your Senators to change something you want changed. We are veterans and unlike the 70’s, that carries weight that can be used to speak up for those that are voiceless or in a dire situation.