WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
People come together from all walks of life to become the most important asset of the United States Air Force: Airmen. That diversity in background, experience, demographics, perspectives, thought and organization play a key role in AF mission success in an increasingly competitive and dynamic global environment.
Throughout May, Team Whiteman celebrates Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Two Airmen from across the 509th Bomb Wing shared how they have managed to stay connected to their cultural roots while immersing themselves into Air Force life, thousands of miles away from all they have ever known.
“I had never been off of Guam before,” said Airman Maria Benavente, assigned to the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “I wanted to explore and have my education paid for.”
Benavente joined the AF in August of 2018 as the first in her family to join the military. Her brother has since joined the Guam Army National Guard as an infantryman and her older sister moved to Alaska with her husband.
“This is the first time we have all been spread out like this,” said Benavente. “It can be so lonely and heartbreaking to hear about what they are going through sometimes and to not be able to be there for them.”
She said she and her family do their best to stay in touch with regular phone conversations.
“It makes the times we do talk, that quality time, even more special,” she said. “It feels like it has brought us closer together.”
20-year-old Airman 1st Class Elaiza Jane Andora, assigned to the 509th Force Support Squadron, said she moved to the Washington state with her family from the Philippines when she was 16.
“I joined the Air Force in June of 2017,” she said.
Her father supported her decision to join, while her mother was more cautious and protective.
Andora said she was nervous, at first, trying to assimilate to life in the Air Force. Tagalog, the main national language of the Philippines, was her first language.
“I did not feel confident with myself, trying to get to know other people,” she said. “I didn’t know if they would understand me or be welcoming.”
Andora described how her basic training and technical school experiences helped her to break out of her comfort zone and become more confident.
Both Andora and Benavente said the Air Force has become their second family.
“I’ve met a lot of good people who care about and look out for one another, and want each other to succeed,” said Benavente. “It’s really beautiful to see how people help one another.”
While they have proudly forged their own paths as Airmen, across the globe from where their journeys began, the desire to hold onto home is strong.
“A lot of people lose their language, their culture,” said Andora. “It’s so important to me to stay connected to it all. I want to be able to share that with my children someday.”
She said participating in activities like the Asian Pacific American Heritage Association capstone event on May 31, 2019, at the National Guard Armory on base, which will feature Asian cuisine, a fashion show, as well as a martial arts demonstration, helps her feel connected.
Benavente said she is proud of where she comes from and she wants to share her culture with her fellow Airmen.
“I think that is one of the best things about the Air Force,” she said. “Everyone has something unique to bring to the table, something they can teach other people.”