A new belonging

Patriotism is not something someone is born with and it should not be demanded, it is something that is felt and earned. Some get it at a young age while others discover it later on in life. Sometimes, all it takes is a dramatic life change.

For two 355th Contracting Squadron contracting specialists at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., patriotism for the U.S. wasn’t initially there. For them, the U.S. was just a place they happened to be, a place they didn’t call home.

Airman 1st Class Eric Armah spent the majority of his life in Ghana, where he went to college and got his degree, but even after all that, he realized he wanted more for himself and his family in the future. In 2012, Armah came to the U.S. where he spent time in New York before taking residence in Virginia.

Being in the U.S. hasn’t always been easy for Armah. His degree from Ghana wasn’t recognized for the jobs he was applying for, and finding a job, let alone a career, proved to be difficult.

“The best jobs I was able to get weren’t the jobs I wanted,” Armah said as he recounted his time working at a prison and a detention center. During this period of his life, he met a U.S. veteran who introduced the idea of joining the military.

“He told me about the benefits and how it provides a great life with the perk of getting to travel everywhere,” he said. “So, I started doing research on my own, and in the end, I chose to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.”

Enlisting was another process in itself. Due to his lack of citizenship, job eligibilities were limited and he ended up spending time in the delayed entry program.

“One day the recruiter called to tell me a job I had on my list was available,” said Armah. “It was for contracting and I didn’t know what it was, but I had it on my list. I was ready to go so I took it, and it turned out to be the best decision I made.”

For Airman 1st Class Hans Gabriel, his experience was different. He moved with his family as a young child from the Philippines to South Carolina. He was exposed to an American upbringing having gone through his developmental years through the U.S. school system, with plans to go to college.

“I graduated class of 2020 with a track and field scholarship, but the university ended up dropping it to shift their funds to focus on football,” said Gabriel. “I realized I needed a way to pay for school. The military was a safe and secure option to me. I knew it had a lot of benefits, and there wasn’t much risk. That was a big push for me to join.”

After high school, and before enlisting into the Air Force, Gabriel worked for a company in their contracting office.

“I was on the other end of what we do here [at the contracting squadron],” said Gabriel. “It was there when I realized I enjoyed this type of office work and the job.”

When Gabriel discovered the military offered contracting specialist as a job, he knew it was something he had to look into. After meeting with a recruiter and going through the recruiting processes, Gabriel was placed in the delayed entry program until contracting became available.

Since enlisting, both Armah and Gabriel have been at Davis-Monthan for over a year, and during that time they went from being foreign nationals to U.S. citizens postured to support the nation. While becoming a U.S. citizen wasn’t their main reason for enlisting, getting their citizenship while being enlisted saved them time and money and provided them with freedom to leave the country if they chose.

“To get naturalized you have to stay in the U.S. for five years straight,” said Gabriel. “If you leave [the country], your time resets. You can’t leave the U.S. at all. Plus, there’s all the feesógoing through the process in the military side, most of the fees were waived for us.”

Serving in the Air Force has provided them with a better life and the resources and capabilities to take care of their families back home and in the future.

“This is a big deal for immigrants,” said Armah. “It isn’t just for myself, it’s for my family and my future generations. If I’m a citizen, my children will be citizens and my children’s children are going to be citizens. It’s not just for me it’s for my future lineage.”

Family is just as important to Gabriel as it is to Armah, and his parents played a huge role in his reason for enlisting.

“I would sacrifice as much as I can for them just so they can live a little more comfortably and stress free,” said Gabriel. “They’ve made so many sacrifices for me and my sisters growing up in the Philippines and by coming here.”

For Armah and Gabriel joining and serving is about being able to take care of the people one cares about.

“I have a very strong connection with family and with this job I make enough extra to send back home to the Philippines to help out a little bit,” said Gabriel. “I send it to them to help anyone that needs it. Sometimes in third world countries it’s very hard to make a living, even if you have a job.”

Before enlisting in the military, Armah and Gabriel were just trying to find their place and a better life for themselves and their families. Ever since going through Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, they’ve felt like they found their place and a newfound feeling of patriotism for the U.S.

“Near the end of basic I felt more in touch with the Air Force in terms of the U.S. itself,” said Gabriel. “Growing up from a different country and coming here, I never really cared for this country, but ever since I went through the training and saw what it was like to be in the military, I feel so much closer to this country. Even though I grew up somewhere else I feel like I can call this place home.”

Armah shared a similar sentiment.

“The urge to help the country, it’s not just about me being a citizen, but also feeling like I’m doing something for the country,” said Armah. “I’m so grateful for everything. I know there’s more. So far, it’s been a great journey for me and I know it’s going to continue that way.”

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