By Michael Crane
For generations, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have served valiantly in the U.S. military and helped shaped the history of our country. As we observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, we want to salute an airman’s selfless service in our Air National Guard.
Maj. Angela Atha is a health services administrator assigned to the 139th Medical Group in the Missouri Air National Guard. Angela is also of half Filipino and half German descent. In 2019, she had the opportunity to visit her mother’s hometown in the Philippines for the first time, and it solidified her appreciation for Filipino people and culture.
“[My] mom would tell us stories about living in a house with dirt floors and not having educational opportunities beyond eighth grade,” she said. “My brother and I did not fully respect what my mom and so many other Filipino-Americans overcame to have a safer, healthier, better life, and to give those same opportunities to their future generations.”
Angela said Filipino traditions and celebrations are similar to American traditions, but Filipinos tend to do them on a larger scale. She recalled birthday parties where she could invite all of her school friends, but her mother would also invite 30 to 50 Filipino community members, making the celebration huge with American and Filipino food, music and games.
One tradition she recalled during New Year’s Eve involves spreading loose change throughout the floors of the house, which was said to bring good wealth into the new year.
“I mostly remember being the kid that had to pick it all up,” she said.
For Angela, these traditions serve as a way to reconnect and refocus on the importance of family.
“Family is a bedrock of Filipino culture; as you age, you live with your children or grandchildren in one house and take care of one another,” she said. “These celebrations and traditions bring us back and center us around the necessity of family.”
As young as nine years-old, Angela knew she wanted to join the military. She grew up in a family with a long history of military service, with her grandfather having served in the U.S. Coast Guard and three great uncles serving in various branches of the U.S. military during World War II.
Growing up hearing stories of her father’s time in the U.S. Marine Corps further fueled her desire to serve. Her brother joined the Air Force after graduating high school and Angela joined after graduating college. For her, joining the military was not just a career choice, but a lifelong ambition.
“I always wanted to be the first woman and the first officer in our historied past,” she said. “And I was able to achieve that goal because of the guidance and support I received at the 139th.”
Angela initially joined the North Carolina Air National Guard at the 145th Airlift Wing as an aerospace medical technician. She later transferred to the 131st Bomb Wing in Missouri. She attributed her success to an incredible supervisor who encouraged her to seek out other opportunities, and that led her to the 139th Airlift Wing where she was eventually commissioned as an officer into her current role.
Angela said the 139th was a perfect fit for her. After one of her deployments, she moved to Colorado, and although it now requires a 12-hour drive and over 700 miles of travel to attend drill, she explained that the people and mission at the 139th make it all worth it.
One of Angela favorite memories of serving was during basic training almost 15 years ago.
“While our flight was marching back to our dorms, retreat and the National Anthem sounded, and we stopped to render our first salute,” she said. “I began to tear up as I processed the obligation, indebtedness and respect for our flag while wearing the Air Force uniform for the first time. Every time I salute while in uniform, I think back to that moment when my entire world stopped, and I became one of the 1%.”
Today, Angela encourages new troops to be open to change and to respond with a “yes” more often than a “no,” and to welcome diversity and allow it to broaden their horizons.
“The best advice I ever received and witnessed firsthand was to surround yourself with diverse people,” she said. “Culturally diverse, diverse in thought [and] approach, diverse in experience [and] expertise. And respect and trust them to do a good job.”
Angela likes a quote from General Patton, a famous and highly respected general of World War II, who said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
As Angela reflects on her journey in the military, she knows that it was the right choice for her. She has been able to serve her country with honor and distinction.
“I am the first to admit that I may not have the right [or] best answer,” she said. “But I am fully confident that the 139th Airlift Wing is full of innovative, intelligent, purpose and mission-driven people that can get us there if we are open-minded to the journey.”
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net, it has been edited for USO.org
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