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Cal Guard Airman from Thailand activated to LA vaccine site

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Piyaporn Rakpongs, a fleet management and analysis specialist with the 147th Combat Communications Squadron, California National Guard, monitors the walk-up site at the community vaccination center at California State University Los Angeles, March 8, 2021. Rakpongs grew up in Thailand before joining the Cal Guard.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Piyaporn Rakpongs, a fleet management and analysis specialist with the 147th Combat Communications Squadron, California National Guard, monitors the walk-up site at the community vaccination center at California State University Los Angeles, March 8, 2021. Rakpongs grew up in Thailand before joining the Cal Guard.

LOS ANGELES – She’s soft-spoken, but there’s an air of confidence about her as she interacts with hundreds of community service members a day at the walk-up vaccination site on Cal State LA. She’s professional, courteous and her journey to be here is literally a global one.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Piyaporn Rakpongs, a fleet management and analysis specialist with the 147th Combat Communications Squadron, California National Guard, was born in Long Beach and moved to Thailand with her family at the age of six. The family returned 21 years later when her father, an engineer, got a job in San Diego.

While working in a family restaurant business, Rakpongs decided she was ready for a change. So, at 36, she joined the Cal Guard.

“I wanted to try something different and challenge myself,” Rakpongs said. “I’m not a very physical person, so I had to build muscle before going to (basic military training).”

At BMT, Rakpongs struggled to improve her fitness scores. She credits her fellow Airmen, or “wingmen,” for encouraging her every step of the way.

“We call one team, one fight,” Rakpongs said. “My wingmen always motivated me to run faster and do more pushups and situps. Before I joined the Air Force, I could not even pass the physical fitness test, but I got the physical training excellence certificate from BMT. I am so proud of myself!”

While in the Air Guard, Rakpongs enjoyed being able to meet new people and serve members of her community. At the vaccine site, she assists with administrative tasks to help process the thousands of community members who use the site daily. On a few occasions, she’s been able to provide Thai language services.

While her accent gives her away as someone raised in another country, Rakpongs says her upbringing in Thailand hasn’t held her back or made her feel out of place.

“It’s not a hardship,” Rakpongs said. “Everyone welcomes me. I don’t feel like a stranger.”

While working at the vaccine site, Rakpongs is already thinking about her future. She is considering commissioning as an officer in the Air Guard and putting her chemistry degree to good use in her civilian career. Her family is proud of her accomplishments as an Airman.

“They are proud and I think they are kinda surprised,” she said. “They didn’t think I could make it at first. They are very proud I am on this mission.”

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