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Making a difference: Man dedicates career, life to environmental restoration

Jose Hurtado, program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s environmental restoration division, stands next to groundwater cleanup equipment located on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Jose Hurtado, program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s environmental restoration division, stands next to groundwater cleanup equipment located on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. As a program manager, Hurtado manages environmental restoration projects to ensure cleanup milestones are met. Hurtado, who has been involved in Air Force restoration efforts since 2000, is dedicated to cleaning up the environment for future generations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Charlotte Singleton)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – As a junior in college, Jose Hurtado had no idea the decision to read an ABC 20/20 news article would drastically change his career path to one focused on the environment.

Now a program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s environmental restoration division, Hurtado was born in the Mexican border-town of Matamoros in 1966 and moved to neighboring Brownsville, Texas, when his family emigrated in 1974.

Growing up in The Valley near the Texas-Mexico border, Hurtado was used to the sights, sounds and smells of maquiladoras, or American industry factories that set up shop just a stone’s throw from U.S. soil in his hometown.

Hurtado never really considered the potential environmental effects these factories might have on the people and lands around him until he read an article about a fatal condition called anencephaly. Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cause for anencephaly is still unknown, but the CDC reports it could be the result of a combination of genes and other factors, including things a mother comes in contact with in the environment.

As Hurtado read more about the incurable condition in infants, he was particularly intrigued as to why anencephaly cases seemed to be spiking in the two towns he had lived in; and whether or not it had any correlation to the industrial waste coming out of the maquiladoras.

“I grew up there, you know,” Hurtado explained. “It just triggered an interest in the environmental field; I knew right then that I wanted to make a difference in the environment.”

After finishing his mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree from the formerly-known Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Hurtado changed his educational goals to better suit his newfound passion for the environment, which timed up perfectly with A&I University’s newly initiated environmental master’s program. He stayed in Kingsville solely to complete the master’s program and begin his journey in the environmental career field.

“I thought, if I went into that field and either prevent future contamination from happening or clean up preexisting waste, it would make a difference for future generations,” Hurtado said.

After completing his master’s degree in environmental engineering, Hurtado plunged head-first into his environmental career and eventually joined the Air Force’s restoration efforts as a program manager for AFCEC overseeing project execution and success. Hurtado said he enjoyed some of his earlier jobs, particularly collecting data in the field while working on the South Texas border for private industry. He credits that experience and being heavily involved in the day-to-day field work operations for helping prepare him to manage projects today.

“My time collecting data gave me an understanding of the work required out in the field and an understanding of how the environmental cleanup process works,” he said.

Hurtado, who has been associated with the Air Force since 2000, said his favorite part of being a program manager at AFCEC is ensuring restoration projects are done right and the work is executed both timely and effectively.

The Air Force Environmental Restoration program, centrally managed and executed by AFCEC, is committed to protecting human health and cleaning up contamination at all active Air Force installations. With restoration teams and environmental experts across the country, AFCEC’s environmental restoration division works to aggressively restore and cleanup contamination sites in accordance with federal, Department of Defense and state regulatory requirements. “Whatever the project milestones are, we want to make sure we’re meeting those goals,” he said.

AFCEC Restoration Branch Chief Jaime Agudelo said Jose is one of the department’s very best.

“Jose has been an integral part of our success,” Agudelo said of his colleague. “We rely heavily on his technical knowledge and extensive expertise in environmental restoration.”

Hurtado was also recently selected to participate in the 2018 Alamo Federal Executive Board program; a highly-competitive leadership program designed to train federal leaders so they gain a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the federal community and how to interface with local and state organizations.

After more than two decades of environmental work, Hurtado said his purpose and goals haven’t changed. He still credits reading the news article about a fatal infant disease for prompting him to pursue a career in environmental restoration and hopes someday scientists and researchers can find the cause for anencephaly.

Hurtado is proud of his Mexican heritage and that he was able to come to America not only to live and raise a family, but make a difference in people’s lives through managing and executing environmental cleanup projects across the country.

The Mexican-American melting pot culture is near and dear to Hurtado’s heart; he considers The Valley home and visits frequently to see family.

“I’m making a difference both for the environment, for the Air Force and my country,” he said.