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Mother's Inspiration Leads Filipino To The U.S. Air Force
by U.S. Air Force James Bove, 43rd AMOG PA
July 31, 2021

To say that Airman 1st Class Isaac Dayag’s mother made him the man he is today is an understatement.

The 19-year-old is fresh out of basic training and ready to serve the U.S Air Force, but his story doesn’t start at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina.

July 9 , 2021 - U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaac Dayag assists personnel in the 43rd Comptroller Squadron at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina. The 19-year-old drew inspiration from his mother when joining the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christian Sharpe)
July 9 , 2021 - U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaac Dayag assists personnel in the 43rd Comptroller Squadron at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina. The 19-year-old drew inspiration from his mother when joining the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christian Sharpe)

It begins in the City of Tuguegarao in the Philippines.

While growing up, Dayag’s only sibling was an older brother, his mother was a nurse and his father worked in aluminum processing. Living conditions in the city were poor “There is a lot of poverty in the Philippines,” Dayag shared. “Some residents aren’t even registered with the government and lack the proper clothing or housing they need to survive. You could drive a car when you were 12 or 13 and nobody cared. There were no speed limits. There is crime, political corruption, and gangs. I’d see students getting stabbed and brawls. I’d see children dig through the trash just to find food to survive. It was crazy.”

It was only a little better when he got home. “My brother and I had nights that we didn’t have anything to eat – not because we couldn’t cook, but there was no food. Our refrigerator was empty. So many people there have nothing. We didn’t have much, but what little we did have was better than nothing.”

Everything the family did have was due to the tireless work of Dayag’s parents. Although the work ethic didn’t lack, the Philippines didn’t offer much in the way of well-paying jobs. Even with his mother being in the medical field, she was earning the equivalent of $40 a month. “No matter how bad things were, my parents were constantly working to provide us education and whatever we needed for school,” Dayag said. His mom even moved to Dubai and lived on as little as possible for three years just to be able to send money back to her family in the Philippines.

Her goal was clear throughout: to move the family to the United States. The family reminded her that dream was close to impossible and to temper her expectations, but she never gave up. After being geographically separated and saving enough money, the day finally came. “We’re moving to New York, and soon,” she told the family.

In all, it took 10 years for her to finally arrive in New York ahead of her family. It was 2016 and the Presidential election generated threats of closing the border to those relocating to the States. Dayag’s family expedited their move to beat any such threats and arrived in New York in the dead of winter, with 36 inches of snow covering cars in the parking lot.

Everything was different – the schools, the food, the language. “It was hard to communicate. New York has its own dialect which made it even harder. The communities were extremely diverse, but I still looked different than others.”

The simplest of things to Americans were different for Dayag. “I remember the first place we lived having central air. I couldn’t believe that you could control the temperature for the entire house with just one screen.”

Through it all, his mom was strong. “I have so much respect for her,” Dayag said. “I remember her saying, ‘I brought you here because I want you to be successful – for better schools, for a better way of life.’ She wanted to have her own things – her own car, her own house. She did it. In the Philippines, most females stay home, so to see my mom have a dream, it was so inspiring.”

The apple doesn’t fall from the tree in the Dayag family. One thing the young Airman is thankful for is the work ethic he learned in the Philippines and from his family. “We work hard, no matter what our job is or how much we get paid. My dad showed me from a young age how to get up early and work hard all day, every day to get a job done. As I got older, he gave me more responsibilities when I went to work with him. I’ll do anything to the best of my ability, the best I can.”

Knowing the struggles his family faced to get here was impactful for him. So much so, that he wanted to join the Air Force to become a pilot. His mother wasn’t a fan of that idea until she realized that, like her, he was living a dream. “If my mom can live the American dream, then so can I. I have her blood in me. Serving the Air Force was the only answer for me. I want to attend college but don’t want to rely on my family to pay for it.”

Although new to the Air Force and Team Pope, the trials and tribulations he faced made him a stronger, well-rounded individual. “Nothing is impossible, especially in America. There are opportunities everywhere. So many people don’t do anything with their lives. You don't have to be smart; you have to be wise. Any opportunity that comes your way, you have to grab it. That was the Air Force for me.”

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