Asian-Pacific Islander chooses Air Force, 'American Dream'

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Planning for your future takes a lot of guts. Working on that decision is even a tougher one.

On this day three years ago, I made a tough decision. I left my dream of becoming a doctor in the Philippines to pursue an opportunity to become a permanent resident of the United States. Like most Filipinos, as well as other immigrants, my family wanted to move to the U.S. to pursue the "American Dream."

It was a struggle moving to the U.S. as my family had to start all over again in Hawaii. I had just graduated from college, but finding employment on an island with more people than jobs was challenging. Just to get by, I took a job where I was only paid minimum wage. 

One day after work, I went to a mall. While there, I saw something that changed my life. 

An elderly woman said, "thank you for serving" to a man in blue. The man just smiled. It was touching to have someone appreciate you for doing your job. I decided to join the Air Force because of the pride it entails and the solid foundation it would help me in establishing my future here. 

Prior to basic training, I spent several nights wondering whether I should really pursue the military. I had a lot of fear. I was afraid they would shun me away because I was different -- the way I speak, my cultural perspective and everything about me. Several of my demographic features are prone to stereotyping. I am Asian. English isn't my first or second language. I'm short, and my skin is a different color. 

But I had already decided. Encouragement from my parents to pursue my goal fueled my desire to be in the Air Force. 

After being in the United States for only a year, I joined the Air Force. My fears were suddenly erased as I found my co-trainees were nice and helped me any way they could. 

Basic military training gives Airmen an opportunity to be at the same level. Everyone is equal. As I look back, the way Airmen are treated during basic training is just a way to strip them of their individual identities and enhance their self-worth. Basic training removes everything from who you were before joining. It imposes the ideology that you are part of a team -- a team that is bigger than you and I -- the Air Force team. This is a team that will not look at your race but rather who you are and what you are capable of doing.

During my training, I felt homesick. Asian families are very tight-knit. Being away from my family was the biggest challenge for me. 

Other challenges Asian-American Airmen face include their cultural upbringing, fear of prejudice, adopting to the American way of life and overcoming the language barrier. But the Air Force has been adamant in making sure everybody is treated equally. This service was one of the first in the Department of Defense to acknowledge the importance of incorporating all the races. The Tuskegee Airmen tore down that wall of segregation to prove they were worthy of being called an Airman.

I read a story that says a child by blood is born from the womb but an adopted child is born from the heart. 

It stands true with this country. Some people of Asian-Pacific background and those of other countries of origin are adopted by America as their own and take it into their hearts to become Airmen. And that, I believe, is the greatest service one can render for being sons and daughters of this country.

I am proud to say I am an Airman with the United States Air Force.