Journey from Puerto Rican business owner to Air Force enlisted aide

  • Published
  • By Capt. Emily Seaton
  • Twentieth Air Force

“I feel like I have my dream job,” said Tech. Sgt. Luis Serrano Matos as he described his position as enlisted aide to the Twentieth Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton. Serrano, from Naranjito, Puerto Rico, grew up with a love of cooking and gathering with loved ones around food, but he did not start out as an enlisted aide in the Air Force.

His journey into the Air Force is a unique one. For over a decade, Serrano owned a construction company and his wife owned three surf shops in Puerto Rico, but the Great Recession in 2008 led them to shut down their businesses. While he had interest in joining the military at that time, he did not speak English and he was older than the age limits set by the services.

Then at 3 a.m. one morning in 2014, he received a call from his Air Force recruiting buddy, who was deployed at the time, that changed the course of his and his family’s life. His friend called to let him know the maximum age to enlist as active-duty Air Force raised from 27 to 39 for those without prior military service.

Serrano went to the recruiting office the next day, but the recruiter told him he had to learn English and lose 40 pounds before the recruiter would consider helping him through the process. Serrano returned a couple of months later with some English and 40 pounds lighter.

His next hurdle was to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. His initial attempt did not go well, but his next attempt was such an improvement they made him take it a third time as a confirmation test.

Once at Air Force Basic Military Training, he tried to lay low due to his limited English. The training instructors took note of how quiet he was, but also how hard he worked to do everything perfectly. They charged him with the responsibility of being the monitor for BEAST Week.

From BMT, Serrano moved on to his initial training as a personnel specialist. He turned 39 the same day as his technical school graduation. Afterwards, Serrano, his wife and their son moved to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom for his first assignment, and their daughter stayed in Puerto Rico to begin college.

The culture shock of RAF Lakenheath and fulfilling his role at the customer service front desk were whole new challenges for Serrano. He was still building his English skills, he struggled to understand the British accents of his UK customers and he did not feel confident in his job. On top of that, his son, who was around 14 at the time, initially struggled with losing his support system he had his whole life and not having his volleyball team. Then seven months into the assignment, Serrano was selected for a deployment.

During his deployment, a senior noncommissioned officer took him under their wing, got him involved in different organizations and volunteer opportunities around the base, and took extra time before the workday to build Serrano’s job knowledge. Serrano came out of that deployment as an even stronger Airman and earned senior airman below the zone.

In 2019, Serrano and his family moved to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. His assignment at JBER was the first time he came across an enlisted aide and where his interest in the career field started. As the enlisted aide was out-processing from the base, he noticed her uniform was different (khakis and a polo) and asked her what her job was in the Air Force. When the new aide arrived, he encouraged Serrano to consider enlisted aide as a career possibility. While not interested at first, he accepted the opportunity to shadow the aide for a week. After that experience, he was all in.

To make the transition to enlisted aide, he had to be released from his Air Force Specialty Code; he had to get letters of recommendation from the commander, command chief and first shirt; and he had to create an official biography. Once his package was ready, the career field manager matched Serrano with potential positions for interviews with general officers. Serrano’s first interview was with Lutton. He was nervous, but excited to follow his passion.

Serrano was selected that day by Lutton and within two months he moved to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming and sent to enlisted aide training in Virginia for four weeks. At the initial training, they studied the Department of the Air Force Instruction to understand expectations and the left and right limits of the job. At the follow-on 6-week advanced culinary training, he learned culinary skills, but also time management and performing under pressure to prepare for the demands of the job. Later, he went to a GO quarters management training, culinary bootcamp and the Culinary Institute of America ProChef Level 1 course.

As the enlisted aide, Serrano plans and cooks meals for the general, prepares menus and the food for official events at the general’s quarters, ensures the main areas of the house are clean and in good condition, and maintains the general’s uniforms. One of his favorite aspects of the job is supporting the general during visits and official events to allow the general to focus on the bigger picture and make connections with visitors over meals. He has had the opportunity to cook for all kinds of visitors to include members of the Irish Air Corps, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, and the honorable Frank Kendall, Secretary of the Air Force.

His love for cooking and the job has paid off. He has been selected to cook for the 2023 United Service Organizations’ Salute to Military Chefs dinner, an event that honors military chefs and gives them the experience of performing in the four-star environment. The military chef honorees are personally selected each year by the President of the United States, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Chairman, Vice Chairman, and each of the Joint Chiefs.

The greatest honor though has been the impact he has had on his family.

“I was the first one to join the military in my family,” Serrano explained. “After I joined, my son joined the Army, and my daughter just came back from tech school. She joined the Air Force and is going to Hawaii for her first job. I have a couple more family members that joined up after they saw me do it…they ask how I did it and always call for mentorship. It makes me happy that it was because of me.”