Ukrainian Airmen serve USAF to give back

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jessica Blair
Each Airman makes the decision to join the U.S. Air Force for their own reasons. For some it is the benefits or travel. For others, it might be because they want to serve their country. But for a select few Airmen, joining was a chance to give back to the country that gave them new prospects in life, and a place to call home.

Three such are now stationed at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey, originally from Ukraine. Although they had very different beginnings, some immigrating with family and some being adopted into whole new families, putting down roots and serving in the United States changed these Ukrainian Airmen’s lives for the better. Some came from dysfunctional homes or struggling to get by financially with their families to now thriving in safe and stable homes and growing up to achieve their goals.

For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anastasia Rash, 621st Contingency Response Squadron mobile command and control communications supervisor, living and serving in the United States has afforded her more opportunities in life she might not have otherwise been able to achieve or experience in her birth country of Ukraine.

Rash was a little girl when her mother told her that they were immigrating to the U.S. It was a time when rapid changes in their government meant that work was hard to find and even harder to keep. Sometimes their family was paid in bags of sugar instead of currency and digging in their gardens for food was the norm.

Moving to the U.S. was their best option for opportunities.

“We came to America in the winter of 1996,” said Rash. “It was my mom, my brother and myself with just our suitcases. None of us knew English so my brother and I learned it in ‘English as a Second Language’ (ESL) through our schools and my mom had to take night classes for ESL. In 2006 my mom took the citizenship test and she passed it because I gave her all my old textbooks and she would read them.”

Imigrating from Ukraine with virtually nothing, Rash and her family faced challenges trying to adapt to new cultural norms while also navigating around a language barrier.

“I think (moving here) changed everything,” said Rash. “(In America) you can do anything you want. For example, I didn’t want to go to school, so I chose a different path. Everything is just better, you can afford more things here, and you don’t have to dig in your garden every day.”

Airman 1st Class Brayden Nolte, 87th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels systems apprentice grew up in orphanages along with his siblings.

For Nolte, being adopted by an American family meant he could do more with his life. When the day came that his new family, who had already adopted his sisters, came to spend time with him in Ukraine he knew his life would change for the better and would open new doors for him.

Nolte knew joining the military would give him the stepping stones to build a good life for himself and fulfil that need he had to give back to the country he chose.

“I wanted to give back and (serving) was always something that I wanted to do,” said Nolte. “I wanted to get a trade job and get my foot in the door which is something that I would not have been able to do in the Ukraine. Now I can go to college, have a job and pay for my own things, get a house and start a family.”

For Senior Airman Lena Sanner, 87th Security Forces Squadron personnel, being much older when she was adopted, one of the largest challenges she faced besides the language barrier and cultural differences, was the treatment she received because of her age.

“In Ukraine I was used to being treated one way and being able to do things,” said Sanner. “But when I came here it was more family oriented and I was treated more like a 14year-old child.”

Now, looking back to life as it was before, the Ukrainian Airmen have been able to achieve things in their careers, educationally and personally that they would not have been able to accomplish had they stayed in Ukraine.

They have learned marketable skills in their jobs, have their own homes and families and are pursuing or plan to pursue their degrees. All of which would have been difficult to achieve had they not came to the U.S.

After the initial adjustment period, there grew a sense of appreciation for their new country that compelled them to give back in a meaningful way. Now they are serving among us here with a sense of pride and commitment to the U.S. Though they all came from different backgrounds they all had one defining goal in their life to give back to the United States that had given them so much to be grateful for.

“I was really inspired by what military life does not only for our country but for other countries,” said Sanner. “I wanted to serve and make a difference. I think we do an amazing job helping and supporting everybody out in the world and in our country and I’m just glad that I can be a part of a lasting impact.”