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I found my extended 'familia' in the Air Force

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- I came to the United States of America, in 1994. I came as an immigrant looking for a better way of life. I came looking to share in the "American Dream". The debt I owe my mother for bringing me to this great country is insurmountable. The debt I owe America for accepting me is unimaginable.

This year's theme for Hispanic Heritage Month, "Getting Involved, Our Families, Our Community, Our Nation" strikes a chord with me due to the personal obstacles and triumphs I've endured to be part of this great Nation of ours.

As a child I faced many adversities as I strove "to fit" in my new adopted country. I had to learn how to read, write, and speak English. Communication was a huge barrier between my teachers, class mates and I. But I never despaired and I never quit. I eventually mastered the English language which made my integration into American society so much easier. That integration was made smoother due to the involvement of my immediate family, my teachers and our government.

I received my resident alien card in 2002. This allowed me to live and work in the United States. A few months later, I made a decision that drastically changed my life for the better. I enlisted in the Air Force.

I started off like all other new trainees; basic training, tech school and my first duty assignment. The support I received from my family during this time was phenomenal. From day one my mother, my stepfather and my sister have been the backbone and motivational motor that push me to excel both personally and professionally. Their support has allowed me to reach several significant milestones, and to grow both personally and professionally.

Their support and the USAF have allowed me to become independent. As an enlisted Airman, some of my most significant accomplishments have been; winning Airman of the Year for my group, earning my Community College of the Air Force diploma, and most recently, my selection for promotion to the rank staff sergeant. The reaching of these goals I dedicate to my number one fans--my parents, who have never stopped pushing me to excel both as a military professional and as a humble citizen in our community. I also want to thank the USAF who made it possible for me to attain perhaps the most significant goal to me personally; the granting of my United States citizenship in 2005.

I want to acknowledge my second family, the men and women of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds that have taken an interest in my life and have also helped me achieve my goals. In particular, to my Hispanic American brothers and sisters in arms; from fellow peers, senior NCOs and officers who have helped with my professional development, to my immediate chain of command. My supervisors and local chain of command are some of the most dedicated and professional men and women I have ever come across. They have mentored me and shown me what it is be an American Airman. They too are part of my extended "familia."

Likewise it also appropriate to pay my respects to those who have come before us. As we are in Korea, I take particular note of Hispanic Americans like Marine Corps 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez who gave his life Incheon during the Korean War, Sept. 15, 1950 and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Also every day Soldiers like Army Pfc. Jose Martinez Jr., whose nephew and personal friend of mine, Tech. Sgt. Jose Rodriguez Jr. is currently stationed here at Kunsan. Private Martinez also gave his life for America and never returned home.

These heroes made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedom of future American generations. I feel honored to be part of the Air Force, the Wolf Pack, and its community because we are all working towards one common goal; to protect and defend the American way of life. It is because of brave men and women serving in harms way all around the world that common citizens, new comers, immigrants, and others have the opportunity to achieve their "American dream" as I have achieved mine. America is the land of opportunity, where people like myself come to pursue a better way of life and in return, give something back.

If it hadn't been for my immediate and extended families, supporting me throughout the years, I would not be here today. I would not be writing this article in a language that is my second language. I would not be here protecting and defending the freedom of our great country. What better way to repay past, present, and future American heroes than to wear the uniform proudly and continue to honorably serve as an American airman today.

Thank you America for honoring my Hispanic roots during National Hispanic Heritage Month 2008.