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Never too far away

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Blake Gonzales
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central)

In December of 2003, Tech. Sgt. Natisha Tech and her father finally landed in the United States after traveling over 8,600 miles.

Natisha looked out of the cabin window, an assortment of barren trees lined an unfamiliar landscape. It was the beginning of winter in Tennessee.

As she made her way through the terminal alongside her dad, a deep feeling of homesickness fell over her. In less than a month, they had picked up as much of their lives as they could carry, and left their home island of the Province of Cebu in the Philippines.

“My father had waited 20 years for his application to be processed,” Natisha said. “I was a junior in college when he got the letter that his immigration request had come in.”

Natisha’s move was expedited, leaving very little time to say goodbye to her homeland. Her father booked the next flight to Tennessee, where her uncle was living. Her mother and two sisters stayed behind so the youngest could finish high school.

Months later, her mother and sisters arrived. They all moved again to Kokomo, Indiana, where her father found steady work. As they settled into their new home, Natisha and her sisters, Neil and Nichelle, quickly searched for any and all opportunities for work and education. The plan was to save as much money as possible before looking at colleges.

As they navigated the workforce, they quickly faced challenges that made getting ahead difficult.

“My English was not so good, and we didn’t each have a car when we first came to the states,” Natisha said. “If I was going to a job interview or applying for an opening, then we would all go together. I figured if I don’t get hired, at least maybe the other two will.”

The three sisters found a few odd jobs here and there, but nothing they all felt comfortable sticking with. All three were in agreement that it didn’t matter what they did, just as long as they stayed together.   

One day, all three were looking for work in the newspaper when they came across an ad for a job with great education benefits, but not much more information. The only thing listed was a phone number. Without much forethought, Natisha gave the number a call and hoped for the best. 

The next conversation would change the lives of all three sisters for the next 17 years.

The local Air Force recruiter assured all three that joining was still a viable option despite their status. After a short pitch over the phone, he offered to sit down with them and explain the process further. All three sisters decided to make the trip to the recruiter’s office.

“Coming in as immigrants, we had limited job options back then,” Natisha said. “There were only three jobs we could apply for in the Air Force: supply management, traffic management, and personnel.”

Just outside the recruiter’s office, the group of siblings huddled together and discussed what their collective decision would be. In the end, the decision to join hinged on whether or not they would stay together.

“Me and my sisters decided we wanted to join, but only if the other two did the same,” Natisha said. “We figured we were all going to go to the same base for technical school, and the recruiter also told us that he could send us to Basic Training around the same time.”

After much deliberation, all three decided to take the leap and become Airmen.

“Normally, each kid would leave home one at a time, but we all ended up leaving at the same time,” Natisha said. “My momma cried the day we left.”

Not only did all three leave for the same Basic Military Training slot, but all were assigned to the same flight. They received more than a few odd looks from the Military Training Instructors.

“Our flight thought we were triplets,” Natisha recalled.

As Natisha and her sisters began the path to Airmanship, they relied on each other for support when the going got tough.

“We were each other’s cheerleaders,” Natisha said. “We weren’t used to exercising, so having to work out six days a week was an adjustment. It was tough, but we just kept pushing each other.”

After the two-month journey, all three not only became Airmen, but also U.S. Citizens.

“They waived the application fee and waiting period,” Natisha said. “All the processing, all the applications, it all went through our personnel section on base. It made the process so much easier.”

When it finally came time to travel to their first duty stations, all three were hoping to go to the same place yet again. However, when the assignment listing was announced, Natisha was shaken to find she would be separated from Neil and Nichelle.

“My sisters both got Hill Air Force Base in Utah and I got Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri,” Natisha recalled. “We didn’t care where were going, we just wanted to go together. Now, I was the only one separate.”

Still determined to take advantage of their opportunities, all three headed to their new assignments promising to stay in close contact.

“I didn’t think I would be at Whiteman for the next six years,” Natisha said. “Nichelle was at Hill for maybe four years, and Neil ended up going to Korea with a follow-on assignment to Germany. We’ve been in separate places ever since.”

Despite the distance, Natisha continued to rely on her sisters for emotional support, along with her mother and father.

“We talked to each other every day,” Natisha said. “If I went two or three days without calling, they would send out a search party.”

Natisha’s connection with her family not only provided emotional relief, but helped in her professional development. As they progressed in their careers, all three quickly discovered the advantage of having two sisters in the same job.

“I can explain myself better in my own dialect,” Natisha said. “It helped a lot, especially in the early part of my career. I still reach back to them if I have questions.”

Although Natisha has never been stationed with her sisters, there is one instance in her military career when she crossed paths with both of them. All three were deployed, one after the other, to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

Now, with a combined total of roughly 51 years of service, Natisha and her sisters are nearly three years away from retirement. All three will retire on the exact same day.

“If anything, the military has taught us to be flexible, or, let’s say fluid, because flexible is still too rigid. Whatever place you’re at, it’s what you make of it. Growing up, I was on an itty-bitty island. I couldn’t wait to be away from my sisters, but now that I’ve been away from them for almost 20 years now, I just can’t wait to get back together again. It’s those little things that I might’ve taken for granted that show me I need them in my life.”