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Why I serve

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- As a child, my father would tell me countless stories of the sufferings he had to endure. In my father's country there were little resources due to electoral fraud and a military government that resorted to political murder. It eventually led to a bloody civil war in the 1970s and '80s. Everywhere you turned there were hungry mothers, fathers, and even children.

My father had a passion to attend school, where he never failed to surpass the other students. School was his getaway, therefore it helped his young mind from thinking of the hunger he felt. At the age of eight, he sadly had no choice but to leave school and start working in the cotton fields. If not, his mother and four sisters would go hungry.

I recall my mother telling me she would have to go to the market barefoot and sell fruit in order to feed my great-grandparents. As years passed, matters were becoming worse as revolutionary forces fought against the government for fair elections. The actions amongst both parties affected the country immensely. My father with 10 pesos in his pocket, equivalent to a quarter, after a hard's day work, would walk five miles home and see decapitated bodies scattered everywhere.

Most of the time he was by himself and luckily was never seen, otherwise the forces would have killed him instantly. At that time, they would raid people's homes and steal their food, murder families with no explanation, and even rape young and older women in front of their families. Fortunately, both my mother and father escaped the highest peak of the civil war by coming to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. The U.S. has provided them opportunities such as citizenship, labor, and equal opportunity. 

When I made the decision to enter the Air Force, my sole purpose was to complete my college education. However, I felt there was something else that was missing. I remember feeling a deep sadness when my parents and my sisters dropped me off at the recruiter's office, the day before basic training. My father with tears in his eyes said, "Mija, become successful and take advantage of the opportunities I never had." I departed with something unexplainable in my heart. 

I can recall the weeks I had to endure while in basic training from the yelling, perfect marching, physical training, shiny boots, and tip-top-shape lockers. All that hard work would pay off on the day of graduation when my family would see the transformation I had made. Graduation day was more than special to me since that "unexplainable" feeling finally manifested before my eyes. 

As all the different flights marched on the field I looked around and I was amazed to see how many people were in the stands. Not only the numbers, but the different cultures, races, religions, and ages came together to celebrate one cause - the cause of a brother, a sister, a mother, a father who made the courageous decision to serve their country. As I heard the National Anthem playing in the background, I proudly saluted the American Flag and at that precise moment is when the "unexplainable" happened.

Both my parents endured sufferings of hunger. Not here. In the United States we have programs which assist those who don't have enough. My mother as a child didn't have shoes. Not in the United States. We have charities who donate shoes to those children who do not have any. My father had no choice but to leave school at the age of eight. Not in the United States. We have laws that protect children and they must attend school. Lastly, my parents nearly faced death from the wars in their own country. Not in the United States. We don't have a civil war occurring among our own country.
Had my mother and father not escaped from their country, I wouldn't be standing here before you today. The United States of America has provided you, myself, and everyone else the opportunities other countries are not blessed with. 

As I processed all this information I realized how proud I am to be the daughter of the two heroes of my life, my strong parents, who taught me the meaning of opportunity and appreciation. I'm proud to say I am an American, proud to salute our flag as the Star Spangled Banner plays, proud to honor those men and women who have given their life for this country, proud and ready to fight those wars the American people have entrusted us with, and proud to wear the uniform of one of the greatest organizations of the world - the Air Force - which represents Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We do. Therefore, if you ask me why I serve, that is why I serve!