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Service before self, an immigrant’s journey

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 161st Air Refueling Wing, stands at attention in a color guard detail before playing taps on his trumpet during Copper 5, an air crew memorial ceremony, at Goldwater Air National Base, Phoenix Ariz., March 13, 2017. Machona was the recipient of the 2016 Maj. Gen. Donald L. Owens Junior Officer of the year award at the wing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Wesley Parrell)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 161st Air Refueling Wing, stands at attention in a color guard detail before playing taps on his trumpet during Copper 5, an air crew memorial ceremony, at Goldwater Air National Base, Phoenix Ariz., March 13, 2017. Machona was the recipient of the 2016 Maj. Gen. Donald L. Owens Junior Officer of the year award at the wing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Wesley Parrell)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the  116th Air Control Wing, poses for a photograph in the foyer a United States Citizenship and Immigration building, during a citizenship ceremony, in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Machona expedited his U.S. Citizenship after joining the U.S. Military. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, poses for a photograph in the foyer a United States Citizenship and Immigration building, during a citizenship ceremony, in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Machona expedited his U.S. Citizenship after joining the U.S. Military. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, takes the oath of enlistment with the Georgia Air National Guard, during an enlistment ceremony in Macon, Ga., Jan. 21, 2011. After swearing in, Machona reported for unit training assembly the next day in student flight. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, takes the oath of enlistment with the Georgia Air National Guard, during an enlistment ceremony in Macon, Ga., Jan. 21, 2011. After swearing in, Machona reported for unit training assembly the next day in student flight. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, takes the Oath of Allegiance, during a citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Subsequent to the oath, Machona became a naturalized U.S. Citizen. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, takes the Oath of Allegiance, during a citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Subsequent to the oath, Machona became a naturalized U.S. Citizen. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, poses for a photograph with co-workers anticipating his Oath of Allegiance, during a citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Machona worked as an administrative assistant at a real estate law firm in Tucker, Ga. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

Then U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tinashe Machona, assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing, poses for a photograph with co-workers anticipating his Oath of Allegiance, during a citizenship ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 12, 2012. Machona worked as an administrative assistant at a real estate law firm in Tucker, Ga. (Courtesy photo, 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona)

GOLDWATER AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ariz. -- This Independence Day we celebrate America’s 241st birthday and I am filled with gratitude for all our nation represents, and the opportunities I’ve been given as a naturalized citizen and as a member of the Arizona Air National Guard.

Service before self. It’s not only an Air Force core value, it is a guiding principle that governs my personal life. As a foreign-born American serving in our military, I believe my highest calling is to serve others, knowing that the ultimate sacrifice is a possibility. I was born in southern Africa. A region with extremely rich cultures and traditions. My life’s journey began there and brought me to the U.S. at the age of 16. My family and I immigrated to this country with hopes of capturing and embracing the American dream.  

On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing all non-citizens who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. I remember feeling inspired by this news because, to me, it meant that I could become a fabric of this country. This was ultimately my path to becoming an American.

My military career as a services specialist began in 2011 with the Georgia Air National Guard at Robbins Air Force Base. Services, at the time, was one of the only Air Force jobs that would allow me to join as a lawful permanent resident, otherwise known as a green card holder. Dining facility operations did not require a secret security clearance, so I was welcomed aboard. After one year of service I became a U.S. citizen.

In 2012, I moved to Arizona to attend Arizona Summit Law School and quickly transferred to the 161st Air Refueling Wing in Phoenix. After five years here, I am truly fond of the unit. My allegiance to the organization is unflinching and I’m proud to accomplish any duty assigned to me. 

It was my honor to serve for four years with some of the hardest-working Airmen in the nation – the 161st Force Support Squadron. The members of the unit’s services flight mentored me and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. 

In 2015, I earned a commissioned and was re-trained to be a public affairs officer. It was an honor to be promoted to such a position, which allows me to effectively convey the commander’s messages. 

Last year, I graduated from law school. I hope to serve my community as an attorney. The calling is in keeping with my desire to represent the marginalized. I see the profession as a noble one, which compels me to help people who cannot help themselves. This goal will never escape my future endeavors.

I take pride in serving others in my military capacity and as a private citizen. The notion of taking care of each other is very personal to me; “I am my brother’s keeper”. 

My upbringing gave me the state-of-mind that there is nothing better than being a humanitarian in pursuit of helping the under-privileged.

“How far you go is determined by the quality of your effort,” said one my college professors. Those words motivate me to this day. I am not perfect, admittedly. No one is. But with the right dose of a never-ending hunger for success, 90 percent of the battle will be won.

I am also very proud to be African. The values my parents instilled in me as a young boy, coupled with my faith, propelled me to where I am today. I lean on the shoulders of all my ancestors and my parents, who painstakingly paved the way for me to realize a better way of life. 

According to the Department of Defense and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, foreign-born service members represent approximately 5 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces.The U.S. military has had many exceptional foreign-born service members; several who’ve reached the general officer ranks, or who’ve distinguished themselves in battle.

I enjoy serving. Every time I put on the uniform I am proud of what it represents – a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor. I also joined the base color guard team, which exhibits the highest honor during military ceremonies and community events.

Being a foreign-born U.S. service member allows me to embrace the American experience from a different perspective. It is a tremendous privilege for me to wake up every morning knowing that I am part of a team that has the same world-view of upholding human rights. I truly believe in what the late Gen. James Doolitte said, “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”

Happy Independence Day to all of my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.