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Deployed Airman gives back to land of opportunity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Garbed in a flight suit, Master Sgt. Ben is surrounded by screens, controls and radios.  His pilot sits by his side as they communicate back and forth preparing to launch their aircraft. But this isn’t your typical cockpit.


Stepping outside, you don’t see the familiar features of a flightline. The unit is tucked in a nondescript corner, a building on one side, concrete barriers on the other. The aircraft Ben is controlling is several hundred meters away, preparing to launch from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on one of dozens of missions leaving that day.


This is Ben’s third deployment, his first as a sensor operator. Looking back, he says he never would have imagined being where he is now when he first stepped foot on American soil.


Ben immigrated to the United States from the Philippines as a 16-year-old boy. He and his parents joined family members living in Los Angeles to find new opportunities.

At first, he recalled, it was a culture shock. He had been accustomed to more structure and a more involved community. Living life in a large American city was completely foreign to him, but he quickly grew to love his new beginning, even staying in the U.S. after his parents decided to return to the Philippines. 


Ben eventually decided he wanted to join the U.S. Air Force.


As an Airman and still carrying a green card, Ben first deployed to Iraq in early 2003 as part of the initial “shock and awe” campaign. He remembers his base being attacked constantly, night and day, and resorting to even sleeping in his chemical protection gear.


It wasn’t until a year later that Ben became an American citizen, standing before the flag at the immigration office in Denver proudly wearing his blues uniform as he swore allegiance to the United States for a second time.


“It’s hard to put that feeling into words,” he recollected. “I had already been in the U.S. five years and in the Air Force for three. I truly felt like I belonged.”


More than 13 years after that initial deployment, Ben is still serving. This week, he heads home to his wife and autistic son after a 6-month deployment.


“The Air Force has given me so much more than I’ve given it,” Ben said. “I just want to give back to the country that gave me so much.”


According to Ben, his Air Force family has been there for him throughout his career when his family needed him, including supporting him through several family emergencies that needed his presence in the Philippines and when his son, Brandon, was diagnosed with Autism.


Since then, Ben has been working hard at his unit, working twelve hour shifts, seven days a week. While he says he’s been grateful the opportunity to serve, he looks forward to going home to his family.


Emerging from his “cockpit” after doing the final launch of this deployment, his Air Force team here at Kandahar bids him farewell and “thank you” with a traditional “fini flight” – drenching him head-to-toe with water from spray guns, buckets and water bottles.


A big grin across his face, he hugs members of his unit. He truly belongs.