October 3, 2012

Staff — HispanicBusiness.com

Influentials Q&A: Brig. Gen. Abel Barrientes

Brig. Gen. Abel Barrientes is the mobilization assistant to the director of operations, in the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).

He was promoted to brigadier general in February 2012—a rank that made him feel humbled, and news that he right away shared with his wife and parents.

Gen. Barrientes is stationed in Hawaii. USPACOM encompasses 36 nations and about half the earth’s surface.

HispanicBusiness asked the general how he stays calm in his line of work, who his mentors are and what advice he has for young U.S. Hispanics looking to explore the U.S. Air Force.

HispanicBusiness: Briefly share your upbringing, and tell about your place of origin.

Abel Barrientes: Born at Fort Belvoir, Va., raised in San Antonio. I am the son of Guadalupe and Adelina Barrientes, and both my parents were civil servants—born and raised in South Texas—who have been married for more than 55 years. Obviously, my parents were a huge influence in making sure I did my best in anything I undertook, especially school. Education was the most important thing to them. I am the oldest of four siblings. I graduated in 1978 from Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, and I was the first in my family to go to college.

HB: What has been your proudest accomplishment?

AB: Truly, my proudest accomplishment is my four children. My wife did the heavy lifting in this arena, because I was gone about 50 percent of the time, but we have raised four wonderful, accomplished children that we are very proud of. Three have graduated college and have successful careers, while our fourth just started his freshman year at UC Berkeley.

Professionally, it has been seeing the individuals that I have touched as a leader and who have flourished and become great leaders themselves.

HB: What is a typical day for you?

AB: When I’m at Camp Smith in Hawaii, I usually start my day at the office around 0600. Days are usually filled with briefings about the goings on in the Pacific Command area of responsibility. I fill in for my boss, a rear admiral in the Navy, when needed, and attend to many meetings daily.

HB: What has been your biggest challenge in your professional career and how did you overcome this challenge?

AB: Frankly, it has been juggling my civilian career. I'm a captain at Delta Air Lines, and I have my military career and my family life. Communication really is the key to make sure that I remain viable, if you will, in all three. My wife and I, in particular, have been real partners in my career and there were sacrifices that were made by my family for me to continue to serve. Absences overseas were the most difficult. We knew this going in and have overcome the challenges together.

At my military job, communication with my superiors and subordinates in knowing expectations and managing them is key. Changing jobs in the military has been a huge challenge in terms of working outside my comfort zone. Initially it seems daunting, but after a while the job almost becomes second nature. Learning everything I can about a job when I first start and continue to learn all I can has been the best way to overcome the challenges of a new position. I find it’s the best way to grow, professionally and personally: Challenge yourself by taking on new things.

HB: What do you enjoy most about your current job?

AB: I’m sure everyone is thinking that it’s got to be stationed in Hawaii that’s the most enjoyable. That’s really great, but the challenges that this area of responsibility (AOR) pose are vast. The United States Pacific Command AOR encompasses about half the earth's surface, stretching from the waters off the West Coast of the U.S. to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole. It is an extremely diverse region culturally, socially, economically and geographically. The 36 nations that comprise the Asia-Pacific region are home to more than 50 percent of the world's population. As such, working in the J3, the Operations Directorate, presents unique challenges every day.

HB: How do you stay calm in your line of work?

AB: Being prepared is usually the best way to stay calm when you are working on a Major Combatant Command staff. That also works best when I’m off flying airplanes in my civilian job.

HB: Our readers like to know more about social media and technology. How do you use social media on a personal or professional level? Please explain.

AB: USPACOM has a robust digital and social media presence to include an impressive newly designed website, an extremely popular Facebook page, a broad international Twitter following and a prevalent Flickr site. The social media and websites are used to inform our audience about our AOR as well as showcase our exercises and our work with our allies and partners. Anyone can visit PACOM's website at www.pacom.mil, follow them on Twitter @PacificCommand, "like" them on Facebook at www.Facbook.com/Pacific.Command, and visit their Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/us-pacific-command.

HB: Tell about any mentors you may have had.

AB: My first mentor was my dad. He taught me the value of hard work and to put forth my best effort in everything I did. For the past 20 years or so, Maj. Gen. Frank Padilla, USAF, has probably had the biggest role in my professional development. He's been a great mentor because he will tell it like it is rather than what I want to hear. A good mentor will do that—give you the good with the bad. There have been quite a few others that have also been there for me throughout these last 30 years. I can't emphasize enough how important mentors are to one’s professional growth.

HB: What advice do you have for young Hispanics going into your field?

AB: Work hard and be the best at whatever you decide to do. Learn the job in and out. Find some mentors that can help guide your career and be able to tell you the truth, good, bad and ugly all the time. Learn all you can about the people you work with and find out where they are coming from. At the same time, let them learn about you and what you are all about. Communicating your thoughts and listening to others is where the real value of diversity lies.

HB: Is there anything else you would like to add that we may not have asked?

AB: It really is a great honor to work at the USPACOM, where more than 360,000 airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors contribute to the continued peace and security in the AOR. I am continually amazed at the quality of individuals that I work with day in and day out. Our country can rest assured that it is in good hands.

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