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Air traffic controller began life as Italian Air Force pilot's daughter

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Hearing her father tell stories about his adventures as a C-130J pilot in the Italian Air Force is what made one air traffic controller here dream of following in his footsteps.

Airman 1st Class Giorgia Repici grew up in an Italian military family. She dreamed of becoming a pilot until she was told she was one centimeter too short.

Her determination and desire to be in the Air Force, however, couldn’t be squelched. She enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 20, receiving her first-choice job assignment as an air traffic controller. Today she works in Vance Air Force Base’s Radar Approach Control Facility.

“It was the closest thing to being a pilot. There is this bond between controllers and pilots,” Repici said. “You cannot have a pilot without a controller and you cannot have a controller without a pilot.

"I love my job,” she continued. “You have to learn to be humble in this job, keeping your focus on the mission and people, and doing the job safely.”

Repici is not a stranger to Vance AFB, although she doesn’t remember her first time here. Her parents, Vincenzo Repici and Anna Domenici, both from Italy, came to the U.S. 20 years ago. Her father went through Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot training at Vance AFB to become a pilot in the Italian Air Force.

They planned to hold off starting their new family until after graduation, but Repici decided to give them a head start and was born Dec. 24, 1995, in Integris Bass Baptist Health Center in Enid -- Vance’s neighboring community. The nursery was her first taste of American life.

She recalled her mother’s stories from her time at Vance AFB. When Repici was only five months old, her mother took her up in the old control tower to watch her father take his first solo flight in a T-38 Talon.

A month later, she and her family moved back to Rome.

They returned to the U.S. 11 years later when her father was assigned as a NATO instructor pilot at Sheppard AFB, Texas, teaching student pilots to fly the Cessna T-37 Tweet and the T-6 Texan.

"When we came back from Italy to the States, I was about to go into seventh grade. I didn’t know how to speak English. I only knew colors and numbers up to 20, my name and what time it is," Repici said.

She and her brother went to a camp on Sheppard AFB to help integrate them with the base and to learn the English language before school started.

"My brother and I would walk around with little strips that said, ‘Can I call home?’ with the phone number next to it; ‘I'm hungry,’ with little pictures of food; or ‘I have to go to the bathroom,’ with pictures showing what I was asking," Repici said.

Learning a new language was tough, but she absorbed vocabulary quickly. She decided to get involved in school programs. She joined school clubs and was on the varsity soccer team. Halfway through her junior year her family moved back to Italy where she had to start over again and face another stumbling block.

"It was difficult because they don’t recognize your American credits in Italian schools," Repici said. "In the middle of year, they wanted me to do all these tests to see which level I was in and my knowledge of Italian history, something I hadn’t studied in the U.S."

Her parents sent her to Marymount International School of Rome where she was enrolled in an international baccalaureate program. This worldwide program is taught in international schools to children of politicians, ambassadors and military members. They teach the same curriculum everywhere so no one falls behind.

Repici remained focused and motivated on getting an education. After graduating, she pursued an international economic relations degree at La Sapienza, an Italian university in Rome.

"I liked it. It made you understand the news a lot better, but it wasn’t something that was hands on. It was a lot of politics, a lot of law and economics. I wanted to do something more hands on, something that I could study and then apply afterward."

Repici wasn’t ready to leave her family. She continued her studies in Rome for a year. Then she realized that it wasn’t the best fit for her. She watched her friends receive advanced degrees but there was a lack of job opportunities there.

After a year of deep soul searching, she said she was ready to start her own life away from home and pursue a military career, something she hoped would give her structure and discipline.

"I decided to join the military not only to be taught a job but also so I could travel just like I was used to doing when I was with my parents,” Repici said. “I like the military lifestyle as far as moving from place to place and always having the opportunity to meet new people.”

Although being at Vance AFB, more than 5,000 miles away from her family, has been difficult for Repici, she said you are never by yourself in the Air Force. “You are always surrounded by other Airmen in the same circumstances,” she said.

Like many who face obstacles, Repici never let them stop her.

She currently speaks three languages: Italian, English and Spanish. She would like to use her language gift in the military.

With a distinct accent, Repici talks about her love for the American culture and the mentality she encountered while her father was stationed at Sheppard AFB. That love was what prompted her to join the U.S. military.

"In the Air Force, moving from place to place gives you an opportunity to start over every time so that you can better yourself,” Repici said. "It gives you one more try to make a first impression and make new friends from all over the world. I think it is an amazing opportunity."