By Kerry McGinley
When Alvaro Flores was a young boy, he was fascinated by the helicopters that took off and landed near his Gypsum, Colorado, home. He also deeply admired his elementary school teachers who helped him learn English, the second language he worked to master after his family immigrated from Mexico. Both set him on his ultimate career path. He won multiple scholarships support his college education, but the funds decreased his final year. Financial pressure and dreams of aviation prompted him to quit college his senior year and join the Army.
His parents, who had worked as a dish washer and maid when they first moved to the U.S. before eventually running their own restaurant, were concerned.
“My mom was not happy,” Flores said. “I left to be a private in the Army. I decided I wanted to give back to the U.S. because it gave us so many opportunities, and I promised my mom I would finish my degree while in the Army.”
Over the next 22 years in the Army, Flores developed a skill set that prepared him for his current role as program manager for ARAVI, a contract with the U.S. Department of State that supports the Colombian National Police’s aviation and counter-narcotrafficking efforts.
“All of the stuff I was doing in the Army was like second nature to this job,” he said. “My military background was unique, and I basically had everything that was required for this position.”
Flores is one of more than 3,400 military veterans who are a part of PAE’s global workforce of 20,000 on all seven continents. Mike Frazier, vice president of Readiness and Sustainment for PAE’s Global Mission Services division, said Flores’ military experience laid the foundation for his success with the $422 million contract.
“The attention to detail and professionalism learned as an Army aviator have allowed Alvaro to flourish as a program manager within the business unit,” Frazier said. “I truly treasure his military experience and the way he uses it to navigate the day-to-day challenges he experiences leading a mostly local national work force in a partner nation.”
His roles in the Army included mechanic, inspector, test pilot, bilingual instructor pilot, government flight rep., contracts, foreign military sales, combat, training officer, maintenance officer, and tactical operations officer. He performed some of that work alongside Colombian armed forces from his post at the U.S. embassy in Bogota. He retired in 2017 at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Four. He also finished his undergraduate degree, his graduate degree with honors, and a project management professional’s certification all of which laid the foundation for his current position, he said.
“As a test pilot, it just gave me a huge depth of knowledge not only working with all the branches of the military in Colombia, it also gave me a chance to work with each of the services’ aircraft,” he said. “Being fully bilingual is critical.”
It also started a new family tradition of service in the armed forces. Flores’ son Nicolás graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in May 2019. He was one of nine accepted for a cross commission to the Air Force and one of eight accepted for flight school starting October 2019. Flores said one of his proudest moments was donning his uniform to pin his son’s second lieutenant rank.
“It was amazing—the best experience of my life,” Flores said. “I’m just happy for him.”
Flores’ work at the U.S. Embassy while active duty forged another family connection. It’s how he met his wife Martha, a Colombian native and mother of his two young daughters, Luciana and Isabella. In addition to the professional development his job offers, he also appreciates being able to raise his girls close to his wife’s family, and that they’ll be fully bilingual as well.
Both his Army career and his tenure with PAE have offered him opportunities to better himself, he said.
“I do love the Army; similar to PAE, there’s opportunity to grow,” he said. “What you make of it, it’s all self-earned… It’s what I hold dear, similar to Army values. It’s basically ‘do what’s right in order to take care of your team.’”
Flores turns his focus on making ARAVI as productive, safe and effective as possible as he focuses on continuous improvement.
“That’s my goal, to make this a flagship program,” he said. “I think we’re on the right course with the continuous improvement initiatives we’ve employed, safety awards, recognition of employees and modernizing—just continuing to improve the program.”