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Airman reflects on career journey after immigrating to U.S.

  • Published
  • By Amy Schiess
  • Air Force Sustainment Center

She was five years old when her grandmother filed a petition for her family to travel from the Philippines to the United States so they would have a chance for a better education, more secure employment and a brighter future. Fifteen years later, just five months before Rhelita Ramos would have become ineligible, she was approved to immigrate to the U.S.  

Today, she is living the dream her grandmother envisioned for her and her sisters as a captain stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“It was a long wait,” Ramos said, “but definitely worth it.”

The decision to move an ocean away wasn’t an easy one at first, she said.

“My two older sisters were past age so they stayed behind, and my mom had a heart condition so she remained in the Philippines as well until we got enough money to purchase her ticket to move to the United States and support her medical condition.”

So Ramos, her father, and three younger sisters made the move together. Ramos’ uncle, who was a retired U.S. Navy officer, already had a plan for the family.

“When we got to the U.S., he picked us up at the airport and a week later we’re at the recruiter trying to join,” she said with a grin. “He was actually the one who encouraged us to join. He said it was stable and had educational benefits.”

In the meantime, they and their father worked multiple jobs to earn the money needed for their mother to safely join them. Ramos worked at a wholesale club during the day as a cashier and at night she worked at a factory applying labels to medicine bottles.

“There were five of us working together to contribute to that,” she said. “And my dad saved everything.” 

Within four months, the family had saved enough to bring over her mother.

Ramos and all three of her sisters enlisted in the Air Force six months after arriving on U.S. soil.

“At first, we were not good at English. We were just trying to figure it out, still learning and trying to improve, but [the military] was guiding us throughout the way,” she said.

Her mother was able to join the family for only a couple of years. When she died in 2007, “the military community helped us,” she said. Ramos and two of her sisters were stationed together at the time.

“We were all Airmen, so they helped us get through it. The community…is very helpful for somebody that doesn’t have experience here.”

Before her mother passed, she told her daughters to serve at least 20 years. For Ramos and two of her sisters, it has been 18 years so far.

“It’s been fun. I truly enjoy my job,” she said.

Her husband, who she met at her first duty station, is also an Air Force officer and has recently been accepted to a Doctor of Science Fellowship Program. Ramos is a few classes away from obtaining her Master of Business Administration “and it’s free,” she said.  “No student loans. That’s why I tell people to join. It’s a good job.

 “A lot of great things are happening and it’s due to the Air Force,” Ramos said. “I’m truly grateful so I’m trying to give back as much as I can.”

Serving in the Air Force also gave Ramos an expedited path to applying for U.S. citizenship. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, lawful permanent residents may apply for naturalization after residing in the U.S for five years. However, military members may apply after serving honorably for one year, which is exactly what Ramos did.

“Becoming a U.S. citizen was a significant event in my life,” she said.

On May 9, 2007, after passing a civics test and completing an interview with a USCIS officer who evaluated her understanding of the English language, she took the oath of allegiance to the United States during a ceremony in Idaho.

The journey has not always been easy for Ramos as an Airman, a wife and a mother to three boys, but Ramos has learned to ask for help when needed.

“I’ve been blessed. I have family support. I have my dad, and my husband is very helpful,” Ramos said. “The military community is designed to help people, especially if you are by yourself or if somebody deploys.”

Ramos has made it a habit to see every challenge as an opportunity to improve herself in some way.

“Knowing that you can gain something from it is how I look at [challenges],” she said. “God has a plan for me so if He put me there, I guess there’s a reason for it. That’s where I get most of my strength.”