Iraqi born Airman serves USAF; gives back
By Staff Sgt. Arielle Vasquez, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 17, 2019
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Every Airman has a story and their own reasons for joining the U.S. Air Force. For some, they answered to a higher calling, wanting to give back to the country that provided them with new beginnings and opportunities.
For Senior Airman Dany Danial, 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron electrical and environmental journeyman, this was the case.
In 1999, when Danial was four years old, his parents made the decision to immigrate from Iraq and put down roots in the United States. The wanted to provide a better life as well as receive medical treatment for his younger brother.
Before Danial left Iraq, his mother and brother were granted asylum and went ahead to the U.S. A year later, Danial along with his father and sister made the journey to reunite with the rest of their family.
“Before going to the U.S., we stayed at a hotel in Mexico for about a month,” he said. “It turns out a lawyer from San Diego was facing charges for criminal offenses and fled to Mexico. He ended up staying in the exact same hotel in Tijuana that we were at. U.S. Marshals raided the entire hotel and I was actually detained for three days as a four-year-old. They realized we didn’t speak English nor Spanish and we ended up being granted asylum in the U.S.”
After Danial and his family were reunited with his mother and brother, they all settled in San Diego, California. His family only spoke Arabic and knew little to no English, so this presented a learning curve for all of them.
“My sister and I picked up on English fairly quickly at school and also from our uncle who was already living in San Diego. I was in English learning classes until the fourth grade. Meanwhile, my mom went to a community college to take English classes, while my dad picked it up at work. This was not easy for them, especially because they were already established in Iraq. It took a lot of hard work, but they provided a great life for us.”
From the age of 13, Danial had a passion for joining the military. Whenever he visited his mother’s workplace, he had the opportunity to talk to military members and veterans about their experiences at a nearby U.S. Navy base. This dream of his persisted throughout his high school years.
“Talking to them made me think about what I wanted to do with my future. I initially considered becoming a U.S. Marine, but my high school guidance counselor pointed me in the direction of the U.S. Air Force.”
After graduating high school, Danial attended the ROTC program at San Diego State for his first semester of college. However, he left school to help his dad run their family business for some time before enlisting in the Air Force in October 2014. Following basic training and technical school, he was assigned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst.
Now, Danial is deployed with the 5th EAMS, a tenant unit under the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. His squadron is responsible for the aerial port of debarkation and maintains staged C-17 aircraft, as well as providing en route maintenance and support for transient C-17 and C-5 aircraft flying in and out of the AOR.
“We are the best at what we do,” Danial said. “Many of our systems are vital in ensuring the aircraft is safe and effective in flight. When the wrenches are turning, the time is ticking away, and the weight is on my shoulders to fix the issue, that’s my niche. I perform my best under that pressure. I may not get to be on the front lines with a rifle taking down the enemy, but I do feel that what I do is essential in the fight.”
Danial’s supervisor here and back at their home station immediately took notice of Danial’s strong work ethic and drive to be the best he can be.
“Without a doubt, Danial is by far the best Airmen I have come across in a long time,” said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Radico, 5 EAMS aircraft electrical and environmental systems specialist. “He is always taking initiative and I know he will make a great non-commissioned officer. I am glad he decided to come in the Air Force. He could have been a rocket scientist if he wanted to, but the fact he joined the Air Force is fantastic and I know there are great things that lie ahead for him.”
Danial expressed how fortunate he is to be working alongside his wingmen every day.
“Being in aircraft maintenance has allowed me to cross paths with some of the greatest people. We are a family in maintenance, each with our own stories and reasons as to why we do what we do. The people I’ve met in my career have fueled my passion and commitment for aircraft maintenance. It is a love/hate relationship, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else being enlisted.”
While Danial had appreciated every moment of his enlisted career, he wants to continue aiming high to become a commissioned officer.
“I am currently enrolled in college classes and I want to keep that momentum going. Once my contract is up in 2020, my goal is to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics and commission as a pilot or maintenance officer. My plan is to return to San Diego State and accomplish ROTC there.”
Reflecting back on his journey, upbringing and Air Force career, he is grateful for the opportunities and experiences that he otherwise would not have had.
“I am happy with the path I have taken up to this point,” he said. “I feel like the U.S. has done a lot for my family and I, and this is one way I feel I can repay that. This is why I love the military so much – it gives me a sense of purpose and that I am making a difference. I have grown to love what I do and grateful for the people I have met along the way.”