AFMC Command News

Service runs in the family for native Filipino

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson

For one Airman, following in his father’s footsteps meant not just joining the military, but also joining him in an adventure in a new and foreign land.

Maj. Sande Penuliar works as a special assistant to the Air Force Materiel Commander as part of the Commander’s Action Group. Born in the Republic of the Philippines, he is the youngest of five children.  He immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 years old, following his older brother and other family members to a new country and way of life.

“I wasn’t a child who was born in the U.S. being raised by immigrant parents, or an adult experiencing the states for the first time,” said Penuliar. “I often felt like I was between two cultures.”

English is part of the school curriculum in the Philippines, but the English he learned prior to immigrating, where all the syllables are clearly enunciated, was not the same language his classmates at school spoke.  

“I was a kid, so cartoons were my saving grace. It took a while, but Hanna Barbera taught me how to speak ‘American’ as if I was born here.”

As he grew older, Penuliar considered joining the Navy like his brother, but his father who served in and retired from the Philippine Air Force convinced him otherwise. He decided to follow his father’s advice and serve his adopted country as an Air Force enlistee.

“My dad had a great career and made a very good living for our family,” he said. “I was always so proud of the work he did for our country.”

After serving for four years, Penuliar separated from the Air Force to go back to school. While working on his degree, he also began dabbling on social media and looking up old friends in his homeland.

“My mom had a photo of me holding the hand of a little neighbor girl at her 4th birthday party. It had been 18 years since I had seen her, and I began to wonder where she was,” said Penuliar. “After a long-distance courtship and many visits, we became engaged.”

Shortly after, he was commissioned back into the Air Force, and he brought his new wife to his first base as an officer.

“I embraced my culture finally and realized how much it rooted me,” he said. “This is where I come from and where my wife is from too – this is me – it’s a part of me.”

In addition to his day-to-day role as part of the AFMC Commander’s Action Group or CAG, Penuliar serves a member of the Language-Enabled Airman Program. He is not a linguist, but he does immersions in the Philippines and participates in online classes to sharpen skills in his native Tagalog. He and his wife speak Tagalog at home and encourage their two sons as well to continue their legacy.

Penuliar admitted that he misses the warm weather and the slower lifestyle in the Philippines where, “Your neighbor is your family,” but he doesn’t have to miss the food.

“I eat at home, and my wife is a great cook.”

Penuliar says his kids are in a more comfortable place than he was at their age. They are used to life in the multicultural environment of the Air Force.

“Our culture is a part of who I am and where I feel comfortable. We don't have to look very long to find other Filipinos wherever we go,” he said. “The community is strong, and we have a family wherever we go.”

As they get ready for their next PCS move in a few weeks, they already know there will be “family” there too.

The 19-year Air Force veteran is returning to Langley AFB as the commander of the 439th Supply Chain Operations Squadron, part of the Air Force Sustainment Center. 

“Being chosen to serve as a commander is an honor for any officer, but it’s an especially big deal for me to represent the Asian American Pacific Islander community in this capacity,” said Penuliar. “My real and adopted families are incredibly excited and proud.”