Why I Serve?

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- 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; 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 he didn't, 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.

After a hard day's work, my father with 10 colones in his pocket, equivalent to a quarter, 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 the time, they would raid people's homes and steal their food, murder families with no explanation and even rape women in front of their families.

Fortunately, both my mother and father escaped the worst point of the civil war in El Salvador by coming to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. The U.S. 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 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 the hard work would pay off on my day of graduation when my family would see the transformations I had made. Graduation day was even more 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 that came together to celebrate one cause. They came to thank the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters 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 the unexplainable happened. While everything around me was taking place, I began to think about my parents.

I thought to myself, both my parents endured the sufferings of hunger, but not here, in the United States we have programs which assist those who don't have enough. As a child, my mother didn't have shoes; in the United States we have charities who donate shoes to children who do not have any. My father had no choice but to leave school at the age of eight, but here we have laws that protect children and provide every child with an education. Lastly, my parents nearly faced death from the wars in their own country, here in our country, the United States, we don't have a civil war occurring amongst our own people.

Had my mother and father not escaped from El Salvador, I wouldn't be alive today. The United States of America has provided you, me and everyone else the opportunities that other countries are not blessed with.