Iowa State alumnus runs campaign for Congress

Breanne Hunter

At a large university like Iowa State, students often blend in and go unnoticed by classmates and professors. However, retired Col. EJ Otero was not that type of student.

“He had strong leadership skills at Iowa State and I knew that after graduation he would be doing something more than just getting a job,” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science, who had Otero in his Latin American politics and American government classes at Iowa State.

Schmidt recalled that Otero would often stay after class to ask him additional questions.

“He was a focused student,” he said. “He knew where he was going and concentrated very hard on making sure he would make it there.”

Otero, who was a freshman in 1978, came to Iowa State from his hometown of Tampa, Fla., with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. During his freshman year, he decided to take a journalism class, as well as a political science class, and fell in love with them both.

Otero immediately made the decision to switch majors and graduated in 1982 with a double major in journalism and mass communications and political science.

During his time at Iowa State, Otero was involved with the ROTC program, which he cited as being “a truly fabulous experience as a young man and a student.” In addition, Otero was also a student senator for the Government of the Student Body and occasionally wrote for the Iowa State Daily.

After graduating from Iowa State, Otero spent 28 years in the Air Force, 22 of which were active duty. His early duties included assignments to the U.S. Pacific Command, as chief of Tactical Analysis Teams at the U.S. embassies in Ecuador and Colombia, senior analyst counter-narcotics and terrorism analyst at the National Security Agency, Space Satellite Development officer in the Air Staff at the Pentagon, and tours in Italy and Greece.

Then came Otero’s most life-changing experience: 9/11.

“I showed up at my office in the morning, hoping it would be another regular day,” Otero said. “By the end of the day, we were at war.”

Immediately following 9/11, Otero was sent to Qatar, where he would spend three tours for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During this time, Otero initially served as co-leader of the team responsible for establishing the intelligence support at the Command Forward Headquarters in Qatar.

In 2005, after serving as Deputy Chief Operations Branch Officer and Division Chief for Intelligence Operations, Otero was named Chief of Coalition Intelligence. In this position, he developed an intelligence-sharing framework with our coalition allies.

Otero spent his final four years in the Air Force working for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla. He was in charge of international engagement dedicated to developing agreements with equivalent Special Operations Commands around the world, to support worldwide U.S. military efforts.

Experiences at Iowa State and in the Air Force have now led Otero to his newest challenge, running for Congress in Florida’s 11th District.

With a strong group of supporters taking the journey with him, the campaign process has been enjoyable for Otero thus far.

“It has been a wonderful experience to see people believe that we can do things together to improve the country,” Otero said.

If this ISU alumnus is elected, he is committed to advocating for a better economy, a strong defense system and congressional reform.

Advocating for a better economy is his biggest goal. He hopes to make Tampa an international trade center.

“Trade is the key to improving the U.S. economy, at this point,” Otero said.

As for congressional reform, Otero believes congress members shouldn’t overstay their welcome. “Politics is something you should do for a limited amount of time to help your country, and then move on. It should not be a lifelong career,” he said.

In addition to his plans for the economy and congressional reform, Otero hopes to improve the defense department. While he agrees that budget cuts need to be made in the defense department, he doesn’t think it should be the only department giving up funding.

“All departments need to be on the table to have budget cuts, not just the defense department,” Otero said.

Schmidt said, as an ISU student, Otero showed many signs of what it takes to be successful in Congress. “He was very likeable, and he could communicate with anyone. That is going to be huge for him in his run for Congress,” Schmidt said. “Congress often acts on a day-to-day basis, EJ thinks strategically, which is very important. We need more people in Congress who can do that.”

Retired Col. Cleopatra Engel, who was a lead intelligence planner at the U.S. Central Command and a close friend of Otero, echoed Schmidt’s confidence in him.

“He is very intelligent, a hard worker and a great communicator. He has always treated everyone equally,” Engel said.

Despite his distance from the school, Otero credits much of his success, both in the Air Force and in his current campaign for Congress, to Iowa State.

“The reason I am the man I am today is because of Iowa State University. There is no question about it,” Otero said.