SAN ANGELO, Texas --
The Air Force story can be told in many ways. It can be told by highlighting air superiority in the sky, by highlighting the Air Force mission to fly, fight and win, or it can be told through the amazing men and women that make up the service both military and civilian.
On Sept. 25, the Air Force played an important role in helping two Goodfellow members realize their longtime dreams to become American citizens.
After arriving in the states in 2006, it took Angelo Inn Housekeeper, Rosa Drake, 12 years to become an American citizen. She married her American husband in 2006, but it wasn’t until she began working on Goodfellow Air Force Base that she pursued her citizenship. Her job with the Air Force was her first job since coming to the U.S. She has worked in housekeeping for five years displaying her five-year pin on her uniform with a smile.
In 2015 the Angelo Inn Lodging Manager, Suzanne Daily, approached human resources seeking a solution to improve communication within lodging. Much of the housekeeping staff spoke Spanish while the majority of guests and management did not. She inquired about resources to help teach English classes. Soon after, a partnership agreement was established between Howard College and Goodfellow. Through this agreement, basic English classes were offered twice a week for employees on Goodfellow.
“It’s only a win-win for everybody. Most of our guests speak English, and the housekeepers need to be able to communicate with them,” said Daily.
According to the 17th Mission Support Group Deputy Director, Toni Hansen, Goodfellow has the most active partnership agreements in the Air Force. These innovative solutions find ways for the community and the base to partner offering services with mutual benefits. In this case, it resulted in helping one determined woman become a U.S. citizen.
Rosa was one of the first students to participate in the classes when the program started two years ago. She continues to dedicate herself and works hard to improve her English every day. Expressing her religious faith, she offered her gratitude every chance she could. She was thankful that Daily saw a need for these classes and initiated the process to help the staff. Rosa encouraged other hotel employees to take advantage of the program. It was through these classes, her Howard College professor helped her begin the citizenship process.
“Rosa is our ambassador for the class. She’s happy-go-lucky. Always smiling, always grateful,” said Daily. “I’m so excited for her. Hopefully that’s an inspiration for other members of our staff.”
Rosa continues to work on her English pronunciation, but she enthusiastically speaks English every chance she can. She is full of pride for the improvements she has seen in herself.
“Now I can say I am an American,” said Rosa. “I wish someday I could speak 100% in English. I am better than before. I just want people to know everything is possible. If I can, anyone can.”
In contrast Senior Airman John Santos Zafra, 17th Medical Operations Squadron public health technician, has been in the United States since he was 13-years-old. Separated from his mother for seven years, he and his sister were reunited stateside in Burleson, Texas. Upon graduating from high school, Zafra was unsure what to do with his life so his stepfather encouraged him to join the Air Force. As a public health technician, his duties include food inspections, mosquito trappings, hearing tests and ensuring Airman are ready for deployments.
Zafra began the naturalization process in basic training, but faced a setback when they were not taking any naturalization applications. He had to reapply again when he arrived at Goodfellow. Continuing to persevere, after 4 and a half years, his day had come. The Air Force made the process easier, allowing him to waive fees and assisted with the administration requirements.
After a long journey, Zafra was ready for his citizenship ceremony.
“I feel very excited to finally be a U.S. citizen,” said Zafra. “I’ve always dreamed of living here for the rest of my life, so it’s somewhat of a dream come true. I feel like I’ve done my parents proud and that I’ve accomplished something not a lot of people can truly say they have.”
Zafra went on to explain how the military gave him the confidence to pursue his citizenship while helping him grow. He expressed there were bumps and hardships on his journey, but the Air Force helped him to overcome the challenges.
“I would just like to thank my friends, my family and my Air Force family for supporting me through this journey,” said Zafra.
Together Rosa and Zafra were among the 76 people to become citizens from 13 different countries on Sept. 25 at the CJ Davidson Center at Angelo State University. The campus auditorium was transformed to serve as a court room.
Col. Ricky Mills, 17th Training Wing commander, was the keynote speaker. He shared his personal stories as the son of a naturalized citizen.
“My mother was naturalized 44 years ago in San Francisco,” said Mills. “I was two-years-old.”
Mills retold his father’s story how as a toddler, Mills was crying so loud that his father was excused from the courtroom and they had to watch the ceremony through a glass window.
“I thought it would be appropriate to invite him to come see what it’s like on the inside today,” said Mills.
Mills spoke of how he has only known diversity in his life and career. He offered his tips for success to include a positive attitude, a hard work ethic and making smart choices.
“If there is another smart choice that I’d ask each and every one of you to consider it is for the rest of your life you treat every American with dignity and respect,” said Mills. “It doesn’t matter where you came from what background you have, how much money your parents have, how much money you have, what your religious views are, what matters is that you’re an American and… you have all the opportunities of every American can have to obtain life, liberty and your own pursuit of happiness. And continue to stay proud of your own heritage as well.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Scott Frost echoed many of these sentiments discussing how diversity strengthens the United States.
“The best of your culture is now the best of ours, and your traditions enrich not only your family they enrich America,” said Frost. “Always remember that this country was founded on diversity of many tribes, countries, cultures… Our survival depends on the values of diversity, of tolerance, dignity and respect and we must live by and teach to each other.”
As citizens born in Mexico and the Philippines, Rosa and Zafra now bring their diversity to the United States and to the Air Force. Whether civilian or military, the Air Force created direct opportunities helping these two Goodfellow members to achieve their lifelong dreams.