Face of Defense: Reservist Spreads Word of Military Good
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, July 27, 2009 Tech Sgt. Alyson Angeles-Kimbrell has found in the Air Force Reserve a way to make a big difference in her life and that of many others.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Alyson Angeles-Kimbrell spoke at the 2009 League of United Latin American Citizens convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 20, 2009. Angeles-Kimbrell has helped herself and many others through the Air Force Reserve. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Angeles-Kimbrell was here earlier this month to attend the 2009 League of United Latin American Citizens convention on a quest to inspire a new generation of local Latino students with personal stories of hope and inspiration.
Angeles-Kimbrell, a native of Lima, Peru, is an information manager on full-time orders with the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Reserve Base, Calif. She credits the Air Force with bringing game-changing value to her life, and says she feels strongly about planting the seeds of success for others.
In seven years, Angeles-Kimbrell mastered English well enough to earn multiple degrees, became a U.S. citizen, joined the Air Force, then return to her native country through an Air Force humanitarian mission to help abused children in an orphanage.
Although her father served in the Peruvian navy, Angeles-Kimbrell said she struggled growing up to undo the cultural restraints that prevented so many women from being encouraged to join the military. To further complicate matters, she tried in earnest to overcome the language and cultural barriers in the United States. Since Angeles-Kimbrell spoke no English when she arrived in San Francisco at age 11, she recalled a fairly rudderless existence by the time she graduated from high school.
"It took me a while to learn English," she said. "When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what career to pursue, and college didn't work for me at first."
Knowing she wanted benefits, education and stability, Angeles-Kimbrell initially considered the Army, before finally enlisting in the Air Force. After eight years of watching her parents complete the U.S. residency process for their family, she finally opted to become a U.S. citizen when she joined the Air Force in April 2002. She spent three years on active duty at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where she earned her Community College of the Air Force associate’s degree. After that, Angeles-Kimbrell said she got the "education bug."
"I became a traditional reservist so I could continue pursuing my college education, and I just kept working harder and harder," she said.
She worked so hard, that in just one year she earned her bachelor's degree in political science, before completing her master's degree in health administration last year.
While many would consider using the Montgomery GI Bill to earn multiple degrees to be a significant feat, Angeles-Kimbrell said the Air Force Reserve afforded her an unexpected and even more meaningful experience.
When the Air Force Reserve offered her the opportunity to go back to her native Lima to work in the U. S. Embassy for four months, Angeles-Kimbrell said she jumped at the chance. She didn’t realize that trying to relearn her native tongue would pose a significant challenge.
"It was tough working with the other branches because of cultural differences and language barriers," she said. "Even though I spoke Spanish, I didn't use it much in the U.S. and it's easy to forget."
Linguistically shifting gears proved relatively mild compared to the challenge of turning money into usable supplies and goods to help hundreds of children at three orphanages in Peru.
With the help of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, a 15-member friendship soccer team came to Peru with cash donations totaling $15,000 to buy items for the orphanages, and Angeles-Kimbrell said she emphatically wanted to help.
"I was in charge of going to the stores, spending the money and trying to make things happen with washers, dryers, medical kits and even a swimming pool to be used for physical therapy for the children. We knew the money would really make a difference because of the exchange rate there," she said.
Despite the fact that the U.S. dollar is worth about three times as much as the Peruvian peso, the challenge at hand was getting local stores to dispense the goods and supplies as they waited to receive checks since regulations prohibit cash donations.
With supplies dispensed and yet another challenge overcome, Angeles-Kimbrell surveyed the donated items in action. Some of the goods went to orphanages that housed severely abused children or those who suffered psychological disorders.
El Hogar Ermelinda Carrera is one of several boarding schools for sexually abused girls, ages 5 to 18. While the school teaches the girls trades and crafts, Angeles-Kimbrell's efforts to obtain and distribute the goods in Peru directly provided the orphanage residents with desperately needed educational and hygienic supplies.
Angeles-Kimbrell said she will never forget or regret her Air Force experience in Peru.
"I was actually glad that I came back to do something for my country after not being there for 14 years," she said. "Being in the Air Force Reserve made me appreciate what I have. Hopefully the children at the orphanages and schools there have the tools they need to at least have the opportunity to do what they want when they get out of that place."
Angeles-Kimbrell said she hopes her experiences can be the impetus to change young people’s lives both in her homeland and here in the United States.
"Joining the Air Force was obviously the greatest thing I've ever done," she said. "If I can mentor someone with a similar background as mine, then maybe they can do something in their life too -- just because you're Latin or female doesn't mean that you're not able to achieve your goals."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle serves in the 459th Air Refueling Wing public affairs office.)