Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman: Ramón “CZ” Colón-López

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson
  • Airman Magazine

The SEAC is the principal military advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on all matters involving joint and combined total force integration, utilization, health of the force and joint development for enlisted personnel. The position was created in 2005 to ensure the CJCS provides proficient military advice, maintains continuity of military leadership and implements the National Defense Strategy through readiness and modernization of the joint force.
The official rank and correct term of address is “SEAC,” instead of “CMSgt.” SEAC Ramón "CZ" Colón-López serves as the fourth Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior enlisted service member, by position, in the United States armed forces. The SEAC's lines of effort are to solidify the values and purpose of the office of the SEAC, develop the joint force to ensure readiness, build global partnerships and take care of people and families.

This is the Airman Magazine interview with Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ramón "CZ" Colón-López.  After a storied career in joint special operations, Colón-López is in a unique position to advise the military's enlisted personnel and promote the warfighting benefit of noncommissioned officers empowered to make operational decisions in the battlespace.

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Colón-López was born Oct. 21, 1971, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. A lack of opportunities led his family to a new home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1985. While overcoming a significant language barrier, he graduated from Kolbe Cathedral High School in 1989 and completed two semesters of college at Sacred Heart University before deciding to enlist in the United States Air Force. 

"I didn't see any other option," Colón-López explained. "I knew that I didn't want to stay in Bridgeport, I wanted to do something different and come into my own on the decisions that I made in my life. I didn't want to be dependent on anyone but myself. I wanted to own my future and it was very easy for me to tell my family 'I get it, I know that you have concerns, but trust me, I feel that this is what's best for me."



1990 - 1994

Colón-López's Journey

In December 1990,  Colón-López enlisted in the United States Air Force. In April 1991, he began working as a traffic management specialist for the 7276th Air Base Group at Iraklion Air Station, Greece. "I got into tech school and I went into traffic management. I did that in Greece for a little bit and I got an opportunity to deploy to Eskan Village in Saudi Arabia," Colón-López recalled. "I believe that it was at that very moment where something clicked in me. I was like, 'Wow.' I feel the worthiness of being deployed and doing something for my country, but I'm not fulfilled. I don't belong in the rear. I need to be in the front lines and I think that was the first part that I [understood that I] need to go ahead and change jobs if [I] want to get closer to the fight."

Air Force History

The United States launched Operation Desert Shield Aug. 7, 1990, to defend Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion and to liberate the recently invaded Kuwait. One deployment involved a 15-hour, 8,000-mile flight of 24 F-15C Eagles from the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The journey was made possible by 12 in-flight refuelings. 

In the first two weeks of Operation Desert Shield, the Air Force deployed six fighter wings to the area and Strategic Air Command increased refueling and reconnaissance flights over the region. 


1994 - 1999

Colón-López's Journey

Colón-López volunteered for pararescue duty in 1993, took the Pararescue Physical Ability and Stamina Test, and entered the training pipeline in 1994. He completed the training in 1996 as one of 12 graduates in a class that started with 113 candidates. He was subsequently assigned to the 48th Rescue Squadron at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where he met his future wife, Janet, in 1997. They were both senior airmen at the time and she worked in supply and later cross-trained to become an aeromedical technician. The pair married Nov. 21, 1999.

During this time, he was deployed in support of operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch and was hand-picked to demonstrate advanced combat rescue techniques to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Foreign Chiefs of Defense and NATO allies.

Colón-López steadily advanced in both rank and responsibility, completing  Airman Leadership School in 1997 and winning the Leadership Award in the process. In 1998, he won Air Combat Command Pararescue NCO of the Year.  He also advanced from a pararescue journeyman to a special tactics element leader when he PCSed to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope AFB, North Carolina, in 1999.

Air Force History

Jeannie Flynn became the first female fighter pilot in the Air Force on Feb. 10, 1994, after a change to official policy that previously precluded women from flying in combat. This led to many other firsts by female fighter, bomber and space shuttle pilots on multiple airframes.

On Jan. 9, 1996, after three-and-a-half years, Operation Provide Promise officially ended. This was the longest sustained international humanitarian airlift in history, up to 1996, and the U.S. Air Force flew more than 4,500 sorties to deliver 62,802 metric tons of cargo to Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia Herzegovina. Altogether, aircraft from 21 nations participated in the United Nations humanitarian airlift and flew nearly 13,000 sorties to deliver some 160,000 metric tons of supplies to Sarajevo. 

Terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers on June 25, 1996, near King Abdul-Aziz Air Base, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. Air Force members and injuring 300 other Americans. The Americans were participating in Operation Southern Watch to deter Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As a result of the bombing, most Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia moved to more remote, easier-to-defend sites in the desert.


1999 - 2005

Colón-López's Journey

Throughout this time period, Colón-López deployed numerous times in support of operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Resolute Support, Inherent Resolve and to several other classified locations. 

He participated in a series of joint operations, including direct assaults and combat search and rescue missions, during one of which, his team protected Hamid Karzai, future Afghanistan president. He also developed an extraction plan with minimal equipment and preparation to assist in the confined space recovery of an Afghan national, ensuring the safety of the pararescueman and the dignity of the body. Additionally, Colón-López served as lead planner and primary medical specialist on a combat mission to recover two high-ranking Al Qaida facilitators.

He received his first Bronze Star Medal with valor for his actions under fire while supporting Karzai's security detail. His second Bronze Star Medal was for his actions after his helicopter was shot down during a mission in Afghanistan. Immediately following the incident, two Navy SEALs and Colón-López assaulted fortified enemy positions, killing five combatants and ensuring the safety of the remaining crew. Over the course of 60 combat missions, his decisive actions resulted in the apprehension of 30 high-value targets. 

He was selected to create and implement the unit's compartmented Personnel Recovery Advance Force Operations team, which serviced the entire Joint Special Operations arena. 

On March 11, 2004, Colón-López, together with his Advance Force Operations Team and elements of the Afghan National Strike Unit, participated in an operation that required the capture of a high-level target and a follow-on site exploitation with the intention of preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons. His helicopter drew hostile enemy fire yet Colón-López continued on his mission, which resulted in two enemy kills, the capture of 10 enemy troops and the destruction of multiple rocket-propelled grenades and small caliber weapons. 

Air Force History

Terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners, crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon, on Sept. 11, 2001. Both towers and part of the Pentagon collapsed and more than 3,000 people died. Passengers aboard the fourth aircraft rushed hijackers and it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of hitting another target. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all airliners in the United States for several days and President George W. Bush announced a war on terrorism and initiated homeland defense efforts, including Operation Noble Eagle, which involved combat air patrols within the United States.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced Sept. 27 that President Bush had given authority to certain military commanders to order the destruction of hijacked civilian airliners.

Operation Enduring Freedom started Oct. 7th with airstrikes against terrorist and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

On March 19, 2003, just after 5:30 a.m., local Iraq time, U.S. forces fired a barrage of nearly 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Iraq, striking three targets around Baghdad. Coalition aircraft, including the F-117 Nighthawk, flew battlefield preparation air strikes that took out air defenses, communications infrastructure, leadership targets, and other military assets. The attack was the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S.-led, multinational coalition effort to liberate the people of Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. 

On May 1, 2003, major combat operations were declared over, however, Iraq remained unstable. Due to a lack of infrastructure and basic services for citizens, as well as ethnic and religious tensions among various groups, coalition forces found themselves facing an insurgency. 

On Dec. 13, 2003, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured in Operation Red Dawn, a joint effort by U.S. Special Operations forces. Making use of human intelligence sources, the U.S. forces tracked Hussein to a farm south of his hometown of Tikrit, where he was discovered hiding in a small “spider hole” on the farm.


2005 - 2011

Colón-López's Journey

In January 2005, after Colón-López returned to the United States, he was named superintendent of training and later; interim commandant of the Pararescue and Combat Rescue Officer School. That same year, Colón-López won the 2005 Air Force Senior NCO Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award. 

On June 12, 2007, Colón-López became one of the first six Airmen, and the first Latino, to be awarded the newly created Air Force Combat Action Medal. It was bestowed upon him by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley at the Air Force Memorial, in Arlington, Virginia. 

The medal was created to recognize Air Force members who are engaged in air or ground combat "outside the wire" in combat zones, Airmen who are under direct and hostile fire, or who personally engaged hostile forces with direct and lethal fire are eligible to receive the award. Maj. Steve Raspet, Master Sgt. Byron P. Allen, Master Sgt. Charlie Peterson, Staff Sgt. Daniel Paxton, and Capt. Allison K. Black also received the new medal at the ceremony.

After leaving the PJ/CRO Schoolhouse Colón-López returned to Pope Field and the 24th Special Tactics Squadron as the unit's senior enlisted advisor from April 2009 to April 2011.

Colón-López then served as the inaugural group superintendent of the 724th Special Tactics Group at Pope Field, which was activated April 30,  2011. However, he only held that position for six months before becoming the command chief master sergeant of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field on Nov. 30, 2011.
"At the 24th STS, and later the 724th STG, my duty was to lead the National Mission Force Tier 1 operators for the Air Force," Colón-López explained. "These are the most highly trained professionals and a culture that I was a part of for most of my pararescue career."

Air Force History

President George W. Bush presided over a ceremony on Oct. 14, 2006, to dedicate the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. An estimated 30,000 people attended the ceremony, which included a variety of Air Force aircraft flybys. The ceremony began a year-long commemoration of the Air Force’s 60th anniversary as a separate service. 

The MQ-9 Reaper flew its first operational mission in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, on Sept. 25, 2007. On Oct. 27, 2007, the Reaper conducted its first precision combat strike sortie against enemy combatants in Deh Rawod, Afghanistan, with a Hellfire missile.

A Bent Spear incident, meaning a serious nuclear weapons incident not involving a risk of detonation, occurred between  Aug. 29-30, 2007, when six nuclear-equipped missiles from Minot AFB, North Dakota, were mistakenly transported to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, aboard a B-52 aircraft. 

A high-level investigation of the Bent Spear incident was completed and briefed to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Oct. 19, 2007. The Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans, and Requirements announced that several people would be relieved of their duties as a result of the investigation. 

The Air Force activated Global Strike Command on Aug. 7, 2009, at Barksdale AFB, to manage the service’s nuclear mission.

On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom ended combat operations in Iraq. Operation New Dawn began, with the objective to advise Iraqi forces. 

The Air Force officially selected “Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win” as its motto on Oct. 7, 2010.


2011 - 2015

Colón-López's Journey

In January 2013, Colón-López was reassigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, where he served as the wing's command chief. In addition to his traditional duties as a wing's command chief, he also served as Kadena AB's senior enlisted liaison between the 18th Wing and enlisted personnel from other Department of Defense branches on Okinawa.

In 2013, the Air Force Professional Development Guide added an excerpt in the "Enlisted Heritage" section that refers to Colón-López's actions in Afghanistan that led to his receiving the Air Force Combat Action Medal. The PDG is studied by Airmen for the Promotion Fitness Examination portion of the Weighted Airman Promotion System which overall determines promotions to the ranks of staff sergeant (E-5) through technical sergeant (E-6) Air Force-wide.

In 2013, Colón-López was one of 15 selected for the Gathering of Eagles, an annual capstone graduating event where leaders share their military experiences and stories with students at the Air Command and Staff College. Retired Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Richard Cole, was also among the 15 selected with Colón-López. Cole was Jimmy Doolittle's copilot on the first bomber to launch from the USS Hornet on the famous Tokyo Raid in April 1942. 

In June 2014, Colón-López was selected to replace Chief Master Sgt. Shelina Frey as the command chief for United States Air Forces Central Command.

"Sometimes, the most rewarding experiences of your life are found where you least expect them," Colón-López reflected. "I never wanted to be a command chief, based on my bias towards the value of the position. After entering the arena, I figured out that it could be anything the individual wanted to do with it, so I did it my way … with a warrior mindset." 

Air Force History

President Barack Obama announced to the nation that the U.S. had conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. On Oct. 21, 2011, President Obama announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end. On Dec. 15, 2011, the DoD announced the official end of the U.S. military mission in Iraq. The last Air Force Operation New Dawn flight out of Iraq took place on Dec. 17, 2011, with 62 Airmen and approximately 60 media on board a C-17 Globemaster III, nicknamed the “Spirit of Golden Gate,” at Imam Ali Air Base, Iraq.

On Aug. 17, 2012, Air Force Space Command announced that the Space-Based Space Surveillance Block 10 satellite had achieved initial operational capability. The satellite was launched in September 2010 and operated 24/7 collecting metric and space object identification data for man-made orbiting objects, with a clear and unobstructed view of resident space objects orbiting Earth from its 390-mile altitude orbit. 

Operation Enduring Freedom ends on Dec. 31, 2014, and Operation Freedom's Sentinel begins. This marks the end of active combat operations by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and a strengthened focus on providing training and advisory support to the Afghan government and its military and security forces. The USAF increases its efforts to train and advise Afghan Air Force pilots and maintainers and to assist the Afghan Air Force with the transfer and procurement of aircraft. 


2015 - 2019

Colón-López's Journey

From June 2016 to September 2016, Colón-López served as the senior enlisted advisor to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, at the Pentagon.

From September 2016  to November 2019, he served as the senior enlisted leader for United States Africa Command at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany, where he was entrusted to help develop the noncommissioned officer corps of U.S. partner nations on the African continent.

On April 12, 2018,  Colón-López was inducted into the Distinguished Veterans Hall of Fame in Puerto Rico.
"In addition to leading, developing and caring for the people of AFRICOM, my duties involved extensive multi-national engagements and relationships to help professionalize the African NCO corps across 53 countries,"  Colón-López explained. "I was the lead for the combatant commander on all issues pertaining to the enlisted force portfolio."

Air Force History

On Sep. 29, 2015, the Air Force opened six combat and special operations-related Air Force specialty codes to women, totaling over 4,000 positions formerly reserved for male Airmen. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that all occupations and positions were open to women on Dec. 3, 2015,  and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James signed the Air Force Implementation Plan for Full Integration of Women in the Air Force on Dec. 30, 2015, which included a timeline for recruiting, accessions, training and assignments, with implementation slated for Jan. 4, 2016. 

The campaign against the Islamic State group reached a major milestone as Iraqi troops and allied regional forces captured Raqqah on July 17, 2017, which ISIS had proclaimed as its capital of Syria. Three days later, Iraqi and allied forces liberated the city of Mosul. 

On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael struck Northwest Florida and Tyndall AFB was devastated. Half of the buildings on base were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Air Force leadership directed the rebuild of Tyndall AFB, with a projected future F-35 mission. 


2019 - Nov. 3, 2023

Colón-López made history when he became the first Airman to serve as the SEAC on Dec. 13, 2019.  "As your SEAC, I stand ready to be beside you; to your left or your right," Colón-López said during the change of responsibility ceremony. "Ensuring that you and your families are never alone."

As the SEAC,  Colón-López advised the CJCS to implement waivers, change policies and provide immediate financial relief for 2.4 million personnel while the world faced the worst pandemic since the plague. He identified an outcomes-based approach to the Enlisted Joint Professional Development program and created GATEWAY; the premier joint course for E-7s which aligned Keystone to the national defense and other military strategies. His actions have affected more than 2 million service members, their families, and 18.4 million veterans worldwide.

“Highway 1116 SEAC Ramón Colón-López”  was unveiled in Guánica, Puerto Rico, May 19, 2023, during a dedication ceremony.

On Oct. 23, 2023, he received the Capt. Eurípides Rubio Medal. Capt. Eurípides Rubio is a Medal of Honor Recipient born in Puerto Rico.  The medal is only awarded to members of operation units or Puerto Rican members of the armed forces of the United States of America or the National Guard of Puerto Rico, active or veterans, who have distinguished themselves with their service in an official mission, risking their lives beyond the call of duty and are selected by the Joint Commission for the Award of Medals and Awards of the Legislative Assembly.