ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Nationwide recruitment is the lifeblood of the United States military; it allows members from across the nation to be trained for and assigned to military missions around the world. For some service members, this process is reversed, where they come from countries outside the U.S. and then join the military.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Antonette Joanne Delos Santos, an air freight specialist assigned to the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She spent the first 21 years of her life there and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering before moving with her family to the U.S. in 2018.
“Joining the military was my childhood dream. It never really crossed my mind to actually take the necessary steps to join since I'm the first in my family ever to join,” said Delos Santos. “My original plan was to utilize my college degree to work as an aircraft mechanic on the civilian side, but that all changed when my mom gave me the idea [to enlist]. Now I'm really thankful to her because she encouraged and motivated me. Since the first day, it has been a roller coaster ride with no regrets.”
To join the Air Force, Delos Santos was in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) for almost one year, which according to her, is a long time compared to others enrolled in the program. She added that her determination to enlist and drive for success kept her going during that time and the reward was worth it.
“What really sold me about joining this branch was the quality of life and the fact that the members in the service truly take care of their own,” said Delos Santos. “I'm thankful to the Air Force for giving me this opportunity to serve, broaden my experience, learn new things, meet amazing people and let me grow not just in my career, but personally as well.”
As an air freight specialist, Delos Santos explained her unit is tasked with ensuring everything is transported safely during student training. The team loads and unloads cargo, equipment, passengers, and vehicles. They make sure everything is documented properly and inspected thoroughly, in addition to working hand-in-hand with the instructor loadmasters to train students.
“We assemble platforms, pack parachutes, test and inspect the extraction and release systems - all needed for airdrops,” said Delos Santos.
Once Delos Santos was fully qualified after completing technical training, she thought she would face another difficult learning curve when arriving at her first duty station. Delos Santos worried about making connections with others because of her different upbringing.
“I thought, since I wasn’t born and hadn’t lived in this country long, that I was going to have a hard time connecting with the people around me,” said Delos Santos. “Since then, I’ve learned the military is so diverse; it has made it easier for me to connect with people who are so open-minded. When my team found out I wasn’t from the U.S., they wanted to learn more about where I was from, my culture, the language I would speak, and the food. Since then, all of this has me feel more connected to the people around me.”
While in the service, Delos Santos plans on achieving her master’s degree, receiving her citizenship, possibly making a full career with the Air Force and looks forward to the personal growth opportunities offered to her as well. She also is excited about the development opportunities because as she stated, “The military can teach people things that simply cannot be taught outside of the service.”
“The experience alone of the military, no one can top that,” said Delos Santos. “This has been a side of my life that I’ll never forget and will one day probably tell my grandkids about. Being in the DEP for so long, then basic, tech school and now here, has been an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”