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As Long As We Are Alive, We Can Rebuild
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua
May 15, 2020

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos was just 10 years old when he tried to kill his father, Mikas, in his sleep.

Mikas was an addict who not only abused drugs, but his own family as well.

When Jim witnessed his father beating his little sister, he decided enough was enough. He waited until Mikas slept and grabbed the biggest knife he could find. The child stood over his slumbering father, summoning his courage to complete the deed.

“He was a big man, and I was a little boy,” said Jim, who now serves in the 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs office. “I remember saying to myself, ‘if I am to succeed, I have to push all my weight down on his body.’ These aren’t thoughts any child should have.”

October 23, 2019 - U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs office non-commissioned officer in charge of Community Engagement, poses during a photo shoot at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Araos faced numerous consecutive challenges in his active-duty career and recovered from depression with the help of a Military Family Life Counselor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)
October 23, 2019 - U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs office non-commissioned officer in charge of Community Engagement, poses during a photo shoot at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Araos faced numerous consecutive challenges in his active-duty career and recovered from depression with the help of a Military Family Life Counselor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Suddenly Jim’s mother, Marissa, awakened next to her husband. Marissa stared at her son coldly, knowing what he was about to do. She told Jim to put the knife away, saying she will handle the situation herself. The boy complied, and Marissa filed for divorce against Mikas shortly afterward.

After the family split apart, Jim wouldn’t see his father again until 10 years later.

The younger Araos described his childhood as difficult and destitute. Jim was born in the Philippines where he spent the first four years of his life. The rest of his childhood was spent in the U.S. territory of Guam, where his family immigrated hoping to carve out a better life for themselves.

“My father told me I had three options in the Philippines: be a farmer like most of my relatives, a bus driver like my uncle or a criminal like him,” Jim recalled. “Eventually we decided to move to Guam, thinking there were better opportunities.”

Unfortunately for the Araos family, Mikas refused to abandon his criminal lifestyle, leaving his wife and children to continue languishing in poverty and fearing for their lives.

“My father was a gangster,” Jim explained. “He would constantly peddle drugs and use them as well.”

Because of Mikas’ constant abuse, and his lack of empathy when faced with his family’s suffering, Jim vowed to never become like his father.

This was one of the deciding factors which drove him to join the Air Force. Jim had just graduated from high school and was hungry for a new beginning. He saw the military as his golden ticket off of the tiny island where he spent most of his life.

“I was broke and I didn’t want to work in fast food,” said Jim. “I wanted to make a better life for myself. The benefits were also very attractive to me. The thought of healthcare, housing, education and a steady pay check in exchange for military service sounded like a good deal.”

Jim entered the Air Force as a still photographer, where his job was to tell the Air Force story by documenting daily missions and global operations through photos. He described his new career as a series of adventures. The military took him from his island home and literally flew him thousands of miles across the world—everywhere from Arkansas to Afghanistan.

But most of all, Jim found a family in the military community: the family he wishes he had growing up.

As the young Airman built his career, there was a thorn in his side which constantly harassed him—his bitterness against his father. He strived to grow into the man he wanted to be: a good man, not the degenerate his father was. But Jim realized by remaining hostile toward Mikas, he would be doomed to become like him.

“My ambition was to not become like my father,” Jim recounted, implying Mikas spent his life wallowing in bitterness. “By harboring my rage, I was becoming more and more like him. I needed to forgive my father in order truly to become the man I wanted to be.”

Because of this, Jim called Mikas and asked to meet with him in San Diego, California, where the elder Araos lived.

“I told my father he made my life a living hell,” Jim narrated. “But nonetheless I forgave him, and would no longer hold his sins against him. That moment helped me move on with my life.”

Although Jim buried the hatchet and resolved his hostility toward Mikas, he would never see his father again until he stood over his deathbed eight years later.

Jim was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, when he was notified by his first sergeant (an administrative official in the Air Force) that his father was in critical condition in the hospital.

As Jim drove to San Diego to see his father, he started sobbing uncontrollably—something he never thought he would do for a man who made his life so miserable.

When he arrived at the hospital, he found Mikas lying comatose because he had suffered a stroke. His relatives were also in the room, grieving and fearing the worst. Since Jim was the next-of-kin, the hospital staff gave him a dilemma: pull the plug on his father, or let him live the rest of his life in a vegetative state.

“The doctor and patient counselor informed me that I was the only one who could make that call,” Jim recalled. “They told me that because of the nature of his injury, he will never live a normal life. I could end my father’s life, or let him stay in a coma forever. Either way, I have already lost my father. It’s a situation no one should ever face, but I unfortunately had to make a decision.”

Jim looked down at Mikas, contemplating his options. He then remembered that one night 18 years ago, as a young boy standing over that same man while clutching a knife. He seemed so eager a long time ago to kill his father, and now he had the chance to do it legally without repercussions.

But now, as an adult, Jim hesitated to end the man who had abused him and his family until they severed ties. Jim looked at Mikas not with bitterness or rage, but with pity.

After what seemed like an eternity, the son made the painful decision to remove his father from life support.

“As the hospital staff pulled the plug, I held my father’s hand; it was the first time I held his hand since I was a kid,” said Jim. “That moment when I had to end his life… it was the only time I ever truly felt I was his son.

“The interesting thing about holding a dying man’s hand, is that you feel their coldness very quickly,” he continued. “When they turn cold, you get cold too. As I drove home that day, I could still feel my father’s cold, dead hand on my hand. Even today I still remember it.”

Even though Jim said he didn’t have a good relationship his father, Mikas’ death had an immense effect on him. He slipped into depression, which led to a chaotic downward spiral in his life.

Shortly after Mikas died, Jim served as a readiness non-commissioned officer at Air Force Central Command headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. His job there was to ensure expeditionary requirements were being met for AFCENT. It was considered a “deployed” assignment so his wife at the time stayed behind at Vandenberg for the six months he was away.

During Jim’s tenure at Shaw, he discovered his wife cheated on him and became pregnant. Upon returning to California, he immediately filed for divorce. His marriage however, was not the only thing he lost; Jim’s now ex-wife took his savings, his car, many of his belongings and even his beloved pets.

“She took my whole life from me,” said Jim. “Everything I worked hard for in life, it was gone in a flash. She even killed my cat! A cat which I raised since I joined the Air Force… she locked it in the garage and let it starve to death. I also had another cat which survived, she took that one with her.”

To add insult to injury, Jim also contracted Lyme disease while clearing out his home after the divorce.

He thought about the Air Force’s four pillars of fitness: mental, physical, social and spiritual, and how they collapsed before his eyes. He was divorced, diseased, disillusioned and depressed. There was no doubt his life fell apart; he had hit rock bottom and felt there was nowhere to turn.

While lying at the point of death from Lyme disease, Jim contemplated his life. That’s when he received help from someone he never expected: his father, Mikas.

“My father was not a great person, but even he would try to give nuggets of wisdom every now and then,” said Jim. “While I sat thinking about life, I remembered some advice he gave me as a little kid: ‘stop being weak, and keep moving forward.’ It was those words which gave me the strength to get up and move on.”

After recovering from Lyme disease, Jim cut his losses and started rebuilding his life. He reached out to a Military Family Life Counselor and shared his story. He also sought help from friends, adding that it’s during times of crises that people know who their true friends are. He also made a change of assignment, moving from Vandenberg to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, where he now serves as the NCO in charge of Community Engagement. This change of scenery is what Jim said really helped him move on.

“My move to Incirlik was essentially a new beginning for me,” he said. “I found myself a good group of friends and colleagues, and I also made new plans for my life ahead. Interestingly enough, I believe my journey through adversity helped me become a stronger person. I can help people in distress because I was there myself.”

One of Jim’s friends spoke highly about his jovial personality and dedication to fellow teammates, adding it was difficult to believe such a good-natured person could have such a dark backstory.

“He’s an amazing supervisor to have in the sense that he will listen to your problems and try to help, but an even greater friend because he shares his knowledge and experiences to show you how to strive past the negative to get to the positive,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Wisher, 100th Air Refueling Wing NCO in charge of Command Information. “His positive attitude causes a ripple effect because he is outgoing and welcoming, which is what we need not only in the military but in life in general.”

Wisher, who currently serves at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, mentioned that listening to Jim’s story helped him find hope in his own difficult situations.

“I’m glad to know Tech. Sgt. Araos and hear his story,” said Wisher. “Having someone I can relate to helps with being able to vent, and he also gives me guidance how to overcome those circumstances. Araos is a great example of an NCO, mentor and friend that we can take information from to help make ourselves and workplaces better.”

Jim now shares his story to people everywhere: whether it is at a barbeque, at the pub and even during base-wide resilience days in front of hundreds of people. He encourages his friends and colleagues, telling them no matter what happens, they can always rebuild—brick by brick, and even more beautifully than the first.

He also makes it a point to be there for others, especially in their most trying hours.

“I am your brother; I am your comrade first, a colleague second,” said Jim. “If you ever need help, never hesitate to reach out. I learned I was never alone, even in my darkest moments. We are all a big family here; if you don’t have a family, I will be your family. I will be a big brother if I ever need to be. As long as we are alive, we can rebuild.”

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