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Face of Defense: Guatemala Mission Gives Airman New Perspective

By Air Force Capt. Al Bosco
Special to American Forces Press Service

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif., Sept. 16, 2008 – The California Air National Guard’s 163rd Medical Group brought much-needed relief to thousands of Guatemalan citizens during a recent medical readiness training exercise mission, but for one airman, the humanitarian effort meant more than just helping people. It was a walk down memory lane.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shirley Morales, a Santa Rosa, Guatemala, native who serves as a force development technician with the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, reviews a script with U.S. and Guatemelan military members prior to a ceremony welcoming the 163rd Medical Group to the country to provide medical care to the local citizens. Morales served as a translator on the unit’s medical mission. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Al Bosco, California National Guard

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Born in Santa Rosa, Guatemala, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shirley Morales, a force development technician with the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, lived near many of the poverty-stricken communities the group visited during the mission. In 1992, at the age of 13, Morales left Santa Rosa with her family to seek a better life and new opportunities in the United States.

In 1996, Morales was looking for more opportunities, so she joined the Army and served on active duty for nine and a half years as a logistics specialist. In 2007, wanting to spend more time with her family, she found a new home in the 163rd RW – a move she said she never thought would bring her back to her roots.

“I was excited when I learned the medical group was going to Santa Rosa on a humanitarian mission and was asked to translate for the team while in-country,” Morales said. “I haven’t been back to Guatemala in three years, so I was especially thankful for the opportunity to help.”

Attending local schools and running through the streets as a child, Morales said, she was aware of the communities’ plight, but didn’t really understand it. She said it was a surprise to see things differently from her new perspective.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t really see or understand the needs of the communities and how much the people needed help,” Morales said. “When we arrived to our first site, and I saw the hundreds of people lined up, though, I saw it very differently than ever before. The people in these communities are hard-working, and many traveled great distances to be seen by American doctors. It filled me with hope and happiness that we could be there to do something for them.”

Throughout the mission, Morales did as much as she could to help the people she once lived among. In fact, aside from performing her duties assisting the team with planning and translation, she helped medical personnel in the women’s health and general practice clinics.

And her efforts were applauded by the most important member of the community: her mother, Elizabeth, who said she is proud of her daughter and all she has accomplished.

“It was a big surprise to have [my daughter] come here, and I am proud of all she has done for the people here,” the airman’s mother said. “I know this is something big for her, to provide humanitarian assistance, because helping others has always been a big part of our family.”

And although the visit was anything but a vacation, Morales said her time in her former homeland with the team was inspiring, and that she’s looking forward to future opportunities to help other countries’ citizens.

“The medical humanitarian mission is outstanding,” Morales said. “The medical team is very dedicated to helping the people, and I’m thankful to be a part of the team and the Air Force, because we’re brining hope and relief to thousands of people who really need it.”

(Air Force Capt. Al Bosco serves with the California National Guard.)

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