WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, N.Y. – An Air Force Reserve recruiter kicked off the 27th Annual U.S. Air Force Hispanic Games as she sang the National Anthem virtually at the “Fastest Track in the World” at The Armory New Balance Track & Field Center here Jan. 9-10, 2021.
The U.S. Air Force Hispanic Games were created in 1994 to honor Washington Heights and its Latino community. The Armory Foundation hosts the Hispanic Games each year and is one of the country’s largest high school/college indoor sporting events. This year, the Air Force Hispanic Games attracted 5,460 high school track & field athletes and 607 coaches. Thousands watched via a live social media feed.
“Knowing these young men and women are able to see the Air Force represented in a positive light makes me feel like I’m contributing my part to the United States of America,” said Tech. Sgt. Autayvia Mitchell, a recruiter at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, who sang the National Anthem. “It was amazing to know I was a piece of the puzzle at a total force event showing how we support each other today.”
For the Air Force, this was the second year being part of the Hispanic Games.
“We are excited to continue our partnership with the Armory Foundation for the 2021 U.S. Air Force Hispanic Games and recognize the hard-working student-athletes competing in the event,” said Maj. Jason Wyche, chief of Air Force Recruiting Service’s National Events Branch. “Through these challenging times, the Air Force remains committed to supporting our partners and their efforts, as well as inspiring young adults.”
Although the games were conducted with no fans due to COVID, the Air Force still had a strong presence in the games.
“The U.S. Air Force is the title sponsor of the event to include: branding on all signage, bibs, and medals; Total Force recruiting activation space; highlighting student’s success through diversity athletics and academics,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Bedford, AFRS National Events program manager. “This does a great job getting our Air Force branding and name out to the public. We love getting our name out, and more importantly, highlight our diverse athletes in our communities. The military is one of the top diverse hiring agencies in the world. We offer so many opportunities in uniform or out of uniform, part-time or full-time with lots of benefits.”
There was also a special “U. S. Air Force Leaders of Tomorrow” recognition event during welcoming ceremonies honoring 12 student-athletes who excel in the classroom.
Bedford led the AFRS team in setting up these games and getting Mitchell to sing the National Anthem was a no brainer for him.
“When I was asked about providing a National Anthem singer for our Total Force Hispanic games activation by senior leadership, I knew right away who I wanted,” Bedford said. “I said I know a great Reservist who can represent our Air Force Total Force recruiting. Ever since I heard her sing for the first time, I was like she’s the best. She could honestly sing for sporting events full time if she wanted to.”
Mitchell has been singing since she was 8 years old. Her mother always encouraged her to sing and remains her motivation. Her mother passed away in 2019, but remains her driving force.
“Ever since I was a young child, my mother has been my motivation in everything I’ve accomplished,” she said. “Although, she’s physically not here, her spirit lives on and I want to continue to show her the respect she deserves. My mother was adamant about her four children having a close relationship.”
She said that while growing up with this mindset, it motivated her to create a pathway for her younger siblings. Her mother’s birthday is January 22 and she said it felt special singing the National Anthem to honor her.
“My goal is truly to show them that although life has given us lemons it’s all about what you decided to do with those lemons that will matter,” Mitchell said. “Knowing that I’m able to celebrate her birthday in this manner makes it easier to get through the day. She’s gone but will never be forgotten.”
For Bedford and Mitchell, their connection goes beyond being Air Force recruiters. They both transitioned to the Air Force Reserve from the U.S. Marine Corps and share many values in common.
“We both were molded from the same piece of iron. As Marines and now Airmen we will never forget where we came from – Eagle, Globe and Anchor. This gave us our framework that developed us into who we are today,” Bedford said. “We both joined the Air Force Reserve as prior service with a plan to fine tune our skills we learned in the Marines to make us a better leader in the Air Force Reserve.”
The pair actually met in the Air Force Reserve, even though they were stationed at the same bases as Marines.
“Master Sgt. Bedford and I met at my Airman Leadership graduation at Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada). We were both stationed at March Air Reserve Base (California) and he came to support one of his troops who was also graduating that day,” Mitchell said. “In hindsight we didn’t know we were going to be stationed at Andrews together. Bedford is a natural born leader and he motivates me. I appreciate his advice because not only is he a great person but he’s also spiritual and I know that he’s going to steer me in the right direction. He’s an awesome Airman, friend and motivator.”
The Air Force Reserve relies on signing prior-service members to fill their ranks and Bedford thinks he has an advantage having been a Marine and living that prior-service transition to the Reserve.
“We both have a lot of experience and knowledge now of how other branches work that really helps us with being good Air Force recruiters. I believe we can capitalize on prior-service experiences that can be very important in filling our Total Force vacancies,” Bedford said. “These skills are already learned and now we don’t have to spend as much time training them up when they are already trained military personal. I can honestly say that my prior-service experience spring boarded me to achieving Century Club in a very challenging zone in Richmond, Virginia.”
While the Air Force continues to work toward focusing on diversity and inclusion, the Air Force Hispanic Games is one of several events aimed at a diverse market.
“Knowing that I am able to participate in a diverse group of people makes me feel that the United States is moving forward and not being stagnant,” Mitchell said. “It’s so important for more events like this to be showcased so that all ethnicities and cultures are being recognized.”
Mitchell recently completed the USMC Marathon, so has a great appreciation for what it takes to compete.
“Running the Marine Corps Marathon made me feel even more powerful than when I was training for it,” Mitchell said. “I felt passion for life after completing the marathon and it cultivated my mindset in pursing my bachelor degree.”
Mitchell also understands the hard work the athletes put in to prepare for the Air Force Hispanic Games.
“I have so much respect for athletes today, especially after completing the Marine Corps Marathon and several other fitness challenges. Training requires mental toughness, perseverance, will power, and most importantly a positive mindset,” she said. “The young men and women who participated in this event have that and I respect their craft.”
She does give some credit to her time as a Marine for having the inner strength to complete this task of completing the marathon.
“My time in the Marine Corps taught me to never quit even if there’s a little bit of pain in your body,” Mitchell said. “There’s a quote that my brothers and sisters would say, ‘pain is weakness leaving the body.’ This quote has stuck with me since I was 18.”