WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- For decades, America has been known around
the world as a place of opportunity, a reputation that has drawn
people from all corners of the world to inhabit there.
this reputation that motivated a husband and wife to leave a former
communist nation of Yugoslavia with their two boys in tow in 1961 at
the height of the Cold War.
This is the backdrop of one
Airman's story; an Airman who today serves as one of the service's
Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc was born in the former
communist country of Yugoslavia. There, his father worked as a
tailor and mother served as a midwife. Though his parents worked
hard, he said, there was something even hard work couldn't buy
Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, Air Force assistant vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, conducts a staff meeting with Maj. William Mamourieh and Lt. Col. Brian Stuart in the Pentagon, Washington DC, Dec. 18,
2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)
In America, your ability to succeed is directly
proportionate to what you put into it, Gorenc said in a
"The message to me was if you work
hard in America, you can succeed," he said. "That was
something that was not present in Yugoslavia. That's why
they left -- opportunity for them, opportunity for their
Opportunity is not only what motivated
young Gorenc to join the Air Force, but what he's helping
Airmen realize 34 years into his military career.
"The motivation and attitude of the Airmen, for me, is a
primary," Gorenc said. "I'll take an Airman with a lower
score or less experience, if they're motivated or have a
great attitude. You can't test for those things. It comes
from the heart."
When Gorenc talks about this
upbringing, it's clear that in these young Airmen, he sees
'Two Ships Passing in the Night'
When Gorenc was 4, his family emmigrated to the United
States, settling in Milwaukee, Wis. There, they joined other
family members from Yugoslavia.
"We chose Milwaukee
because my dad had brothers who had settled there," the
general said. "And at the time, Milwaukee was a very blue
collar kind of town [with] many blue collar job
His family arrived in
America with motivation and only about $100 to their name.
His father found familiar work as a tailor and his
mother worked in a factory while taking English and
constitution classes to become American citizens. This was
their routine for five years.
"I saw firsthand,
though I didn't recognize it then, what a sacrifice they
made in their lifestyle in order to provide the opportunity
that came along with living in America," the general
Fulfilling their dream became part of his
own, he explained.
"My father worked on the day
shift, and my mother had a night shift job because there
were not childcare options available like there are these
days. Plus we didn't have money for childcare" Gorenc said.
"For years, they were two ships passing in the night ... it
motivated me because I didn't want to disappoint them."
Gorenc was a motivated child from the start. While most
children were learning basic math, Gorenc had to learn those
things plus English. It was sink or swim.
an ethnic community, Gorenc said the goal was to "learn
English as fast as we could, and to understand everything
that America had to offer." "We recognized the fact that
knowing English well, knowing America well, was a way to
move forward," he added.
As Gorenc grew, so did his
love of school, he said. He didn't just love the academics,
but what the entire environment offered him.
most of his childhood, his parents, he said, were "...
otherwise occupied trying to sustain the family." "My entire
life revolved around going to school; it was a safe place
An Airman in the Making
extra-curricular activities included his school's math club,
football team, weight lifting club, band and more.
Unknowingly at the time, he was preparing himself for a life
of service in the Air Force.
"whole-person concept" is well-known across the Air Force
and Gorenc has been living this lifestyle since an early
age. The concept focuses on Airmen becoming well-rounded
through unit and community involvement, active pursuit of
off-duty education and excellence in their career fields.
"I feel like I've been an Airman since day one,"
Gorenc said. "The way I grew up and the motivation of my
parents was represented well in the Air Force that I came
The general noted that the Air Force seeks more
than singular talents.
"We value the whole person, as
they come into our Air Force and as they move up in our Air
Growing up, there was only one institution
Gorenc wanted to attend after high school -- the Air Force
Academy. Gorenc's older brother, Stanley, was attending the
academy then. The elder brother retired from the Air Force
in 2007 as a major general.
"When I was a freshman
in high school, I went to parent's weekend to visit [him],"
he said. "I walked on the campus with my parents -- from
that moment on, it was Air Force Academy all the way. It was
very high-tech looking, so it attracted me visually. I knew
it was an organization that had the future in mind."
Throughout high school, Gorenc's
grades, though above average, did not stand out. But what
was distinctive could not be quantified.
what he attributes receiving his nomination to and eventual
acceptance into the Academy, he said it's an "x-factor," ...
the "thing" numbers can't define. The thing he looks for in
Gorenc said his scholastic aptitude
test scores were just 10 points above the minimum for
acceptance into the academy. "I had to take the SATs three
times just to get that score." At the Air Force Academy,
academics were important, but so was athletic and military
training ," the general said.
"Being well rounded
was more important than pure academic achievement [and] our
Air Force is like this," Gorenc said, crediting his
academic, athletic and community involvement for helping
open Academy doors to him.
In order to apply for
military academies, applicants must be nominated by one of
their congressmen. Gorenc began with his senators, both of
whom denied him.
"I kept the (rejection) letters,"
he said. "I have them at home. The senators said, 'Thanks
for applying, your SAT scores are too low.'"
didn't stop him. Gorenc then applied through a man he
already knew who'd already significantly impacted his life
and still does, Congressman Clement J. Zablocki.
Zablocki, who represented the people of Milwaukee for more
than 30 years, sponsored the Gorencs' immigration to the
states, and even nominated brother Stanley for the Academy.
The congressman, Gorenc explained, took a more
involved approach than the senators for vetting potential
academy nominees. Zablocki commissioned a three-person panel
of community members, including a local businessman, a
housewife and a priest, to interview candidates on their
future goals and desires. Additionally, the congressman
based his academy nominations on the Wisconsin civil service
exam, not the SAT scores.
Clearly, they saw
Today, Gorenc is one of about 200
Air Force generals on active-duty. He serves as the
assistant vice chief of staff and Air Staff director in the
As one of the service's senior leaders, he
uses a Zablocki-inspired approach to identify exceptional
Airmen, some of whom will go on to earn stars on their
shoulders and lead the future Air Force, a fact not lost on
"The legacy that I want to see for me
is in the end people will say 'yeah, he knew his mission, he
did his mission well, and he helped train a whole group of
Airmen for the future.' That's the only thing I give a
(darn) about," Gorenc said.
From seeking opportunity
to overcoming adversity, Gorenc offers many lessons, though
none are arguably more important than one he learned as a
young Slovenian immigrant with high hopes.
America, if you work hard, you succeed -- that's what I
believe," he said. "And I believe that is true in the United
States Air Force."
By USAF Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
(Joel Fortner contributed
to this article)
Air Force News Service
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