TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Sono un aviatore Americano. When translated, these words represent the bridge between two disparate lives for Dimas Bernacchia -- the life of an Italian immigrant and the life of an American Airman.
Born in the city of Senigallia, Italy, Bernacchia spent much of his childhood traversing Europe and the Italian peninsula.
His father, Giulio Bernacchia, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Italian air force, flew the NE-A3 Sentry AWACS for NATO forces in the first Gulf War.
"Growing up, I never really saw much difference between the Italian and American air force, I just saw Air Force in general," Bernacchia said. "Ever since I was really young, I've always had this thing in the back of my mind about the military and I think that ties back to my father."
During the early years of his life, Bernacchia experienced different aspects of American culture with his father being stationed at a joint base in Germany. He attended American schools, and surprisingly, English served as his first language.
"Moving back to Italy, the teachers couldn't understand me. They would ask me to write stuff down and I would write it down in English,” he said as he laughed about the memory. “I remember I was returned an assignment with a big X on it, and the teacher said this is all in English."
While he grew accustomed to his native language, his mother and father maintained his dual language proficiency by watching movies in English.
"We watched a lot of movies," he said. "My parents knew English was important and would give me more opportunities in the world."
His bilingual ability did indeed open doors. At the age of 22, Bernacchia applied for a one year program to work at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
"I didn't even know what job they would have me doing. I was just excited to go," he said. "Working at Disney was my bridge to the United States. It gave me a chance to learn and experience American culture at its fullest."
Bernacchia would spend the year as a waiter at one of the restaurants at the park. He embraced the culture, excelled in his profession and met Elizabeth, the woman who would one day become his wife. The year flashed by.
He returned to Italy after the program ended, but eventually reverted to Disney where he was promoted to a corporate level manager working for the company's food and wine festival.
"At one point I looked at my life and thought, 'I have a family, a good job, but I want to give something back to the United States,’" he said. "I wanted to pursue something that has always been in my mind. I decided to enlist in the Air Force so I could have a chance to serve this country that has been so great to me. And at the same time, fulfill this long lasting dream of being in the Air Force and being a part of something great."
Bernacchia left for basic military training on March 25, 2014 -- still as an Italian citizen.
Having completed technical training to become a financial management comptroller, he arrived at Travis Air Force Base, California, in the early fall as a member of the 60th Comptroller Squadron. It was now his chance to apply for American citizenship.
As a service member, Bernacchia fell under a special provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that expedites the application and naturalization process. Meeting the qualifications to become a citizen of the U.S., he raised his right hand on Sept. 3, yet again -- only this time it wasn't in service of his country, it was to be recognized as an American citizen.
"I remember walking out of the building feeling as if I had somehow won the lottery. It's a surreal feeling," the comptroller said.
For Bernacchia, his future plans have yet to be written. His focus centers on his work within the comptroller squadron and his role as a husband to his wife Elizabeth and their two-year-old daughter, Abigail.
"Anything can happen," he said. "I was without a job in Italy, then I was working at Disney and now I'm in the United States Air Force, so who knows what is going to happen next."