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Sky is the limit for Goodfellow Airman

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Airman 1st Class Yi Liu immigrated from China to the United States in 2003 when she was 21 years old. Shortly after, she joined the Air Force. She is now assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Services Squadron at a forward-deployed location. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Yi Liu deployed with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. She immigrated from China to the United States in 2003 when she was 21 years old, joining the Air Force shortly after. Airman Liu, a former services journeyman, is retraining to be an airborne linguist at Goodfellow. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Yi Liu displays her enlisted aircrew wings shortly after their presentation Nov. 21. Airman Yi, a former services journeyman, is retraining to be an airborne linguist at Goodfellow. (Courtesy photo)

Senior Airman Yi Liu displays her enlisted aircrew wings shortly after their presentation Nov. 21. Airman Liu, a former services journeyman, is retraining to be an airborne linguist at Goodfellow. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Though most Airmen are familiar with the idea of receiving gifts in December, one of Goodfellow's Airmen received her best present the day before Thanksgiving.

In Senior Airman Yi Liu's journal, which she started three years ago as a services apprentice, are the words "I want to be a linguist." In that same journal, she talks about how she yearns to fly.

On Nov. 19, Airman Liu got her wish. The Chinese immigrant-turned-American citizen earned her wings alongside her classmates in the 316th Training Squadron, and she is well on her way toward being a Chinese (Mandarin) Airborne Linguist.

"It's hard for others to understand what's behind my wings," the soft-spoken former services Airman said. "It didn't come easy."

Airman Liu, who immigrated to America from a small town outside Yang Chun in the Guang Dong province of China, first lived in San Fransisco, Calif. After only nine months, she enlisted in the Air Force.

Basic Military Training was difficult for her, she said. Because her English was still developing, she often had difficulty understanding the military training instructors and the academic coursework.

"Can you imagine what it is like to be deaf and dumb?" Airman Liu said. "That's how I felt in basic training. Not only was I trying to adapt to the tough physical and mental requirements, but I was also learning English as a new language."

Despite her difficulties, she graduated from BMT and entered technical training as a services apprentice at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. She fought with the language barrier there as well, and when she graduated, she was sent to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

While at Cannon, Airman Liu earned her 5-level qualification and, more importantly, her U.S. citizenship.

"It's easy for someone who grew up here to take it for granted," she said, "But after coming from China it's easy to see there is a ton of opportunity in this country." She added that she was proud to be a citizen, and planned to give as much as she could to America and make the most of her citizenship. "The American dream has never died," Airman Liu said. "You just have to believe in it."

The young Airman soon got a chance to give back to her country, deploying to Southwest Asia with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. While deployed, Airman Liu taught a Chinese language class in her spare time.

"I'm picking up new English words daily and helping Air Force linguists practice Chinese," she said while deployed. "I know I play my own special role in the Global War on Terrorism," she added, "This is satisfying, but I want to give more."

Finally, after a chance encounter with a lieutenant general in the 379 AEW Base Exchange, Airman Liu got her wish.

"I told him, 'Sir, I've been receiving language pay for almost a year, and I'd like to actually be doing something for the Air Force with it instead of just taking the money,'" Airman Liu said. The general laughed, gave her his card and told her to e-mail him.

As a fluent speaker of both Mandarin and Cantonese, Airman Liu was able to go straight from the Enlisted Aircrew course at Lackland to the 316 TRS here without passing through the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., first, but she still faces many of the same difficulties as her classmates.

"I'm most worried about academic training, mainly because the language barrier is still there," she said. "But I'm trying very hard to overcome it." The biggest problem, she said, is the new vocabulary. "I'd never heard the word 'infantry,' for instance, while I was in services," she said. "It's difficult for someone with three languages."

The next step for Airman Liu is Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. After that, the sky is the limit.

"I want to be a good linguist first," Airman Liu said. Though she re-enlisted in August, she's not sure if she's going to make the Air Force a career yet. "There's plenty of time," she said. "But if I really love this, I might stay."

(Information from a story by Maj. Ann Knabe, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story)