MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (11/14/2012 - AFNS) -- Under a
star-studded night in their native Cuba, a young boy and his
stepbrother made a promise to each other. If they ever somehow made
it to the United States, they would join the U.S. military and find
a way to give back to the land that gave them freedom.
Senior Airman Osniel Diaz, 42nd Medical Group public health professional, inspects kitchen equipment at Maxwell Air Force Base, Nov. 6, 2012. Diaz started his Air Force career without knowing how to speak English. U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Christopher Stoltz
Nearly two decades later, and a host of obstacles thrown his way,
that young boy and his brother have made their dreams come true.
Senior Airman Osniel Diaz, a public health specialist, in charge
of food inspection, workplace safety, sanitary standards and
controlling communicable diseases with the 42nd Medical Group at
Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., is living a dream that just a few
short years ago seemed impossible.
Throughout his childhood,
Diaz and his family had dreams of reaching America, even after
threats of imprisonment from the communist government. "One night,
in Cuba, we decided that, when we got to the United States, we would
join the military to give back to the country that gave us our
Freedom for Diaz and his family came in stages,
when in 2002, his mother and stepbrother were allowed access to the
U.S. Despite the rumors of threats and imprisonment, Diaz joined his
family four years later when he was granted a travel visa.
When he arrived in Miami, he found that his stepbrother
had joined the Marine Corps, as promised, but the journey to
fulfill his promise to his new country had to wait a bit
"I spent four years waiting to get my
resident card so that I could join the military," said Diaz.
"In the meantime, I worked as a computer technician. I
didn't know English, so that was the only type of job I
Diaz and his family moved to Colorado
during that time and, for a while, it looked like his dream
of joining the military may not turn into a reality. "One
day immigration called to interview me for the fourth time,"
said Diaz. "The problem was that I had to travel from
Colorado back to Florida for the interview."
interview was a success, and with his new resident status in
hand, Diaz pursued his dream of joining the Air Force. But
he found that joining and succeeding in the military had its
own set of challenges.
"I was working at a good job,
but my dream was still to be in the Air Force," said Diaz.
"I understand that only one percent of the U.S. population
joins the military and fights for their country, but, for
me, joining was saying 'thank you' for my freedom."
First Diaz had to obtain an age waiver, then ran into the
issue of the ASVAB or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude
Battery test. "It was horrible," said Diaz. "and I barely
passed. My reading score was awful, but my scores on the
other sections helped balance it out."
found himself unemployed and, with a wife and two small
children to support, entering the Air Force held an extra
sense of urgency. A month later, his recruiter called with
an opening, with one slight twist. He had two days to
Diaz found that even though getting into the
Air Force presented one set of challenges, getting through
basic training presented an entirely different set. "I was
always in trouble and I didn't speak English when I first
got to basic," said Diaz. "My brother gave me good advice
from his time as a Marine: 'Be a copycat. Whatever you see
other people do - do that.'
"The first week of basic
was hard. My collar was messed up and I kept getting yelled
at for it in the cafeteria. I was so confused about it all
that I didn't eat. I just drank water for a week."
Finally, someone in his flight told Diaz about his collar,
that it was flipped up instead of lying flat. And, even
though his language problem continued to plague him
throughout basic, things began to improve for the new
With the help of a fellow trainee,
Diaz continued to work on his English skills and not only
made it through basic training, but also through his public
health technical school.
"Even after I got to
Maxwell, my English was pretty bad," said Diaz. "My first
supervisor made me answer the phones for the first two
months. She said I would answer the phones and read Air
Force Instructions until I got better at English. And, it
really helped! Hearing the language and trying to understand
it all day improved my skills greatly."
Today, as an
American citizen, Diaz gets a thumbs up from the one person
who has watched him struggle from a dream-struck youth to a
newly promoted senior airman.
"Osniel has changed
his life because this country gave him the opportunity to
pursue his dreams," said his mother, Lina Martinez. "He has
put the maximum effort into his work to get ahead and has
never given up. Even without mastering the English language,
he has studied the computer field, joined the Air Force and
is growing a family with his beautiful wife."
By USAF Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship
Air Force News Service
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