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Through Airmen's Eyes: Migrant Airman overcomes cultural barriers, prospers

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, grew up in the Philippines and overcame many cultural adversities as he transitioned to an Air Force career. He was recognized by Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, with the Shogun Spotlight Award for his outstanding work performance. Photo taken Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, grew up in the Philippines and overcame many cultural adversities as he transitioned to an Air Force career. He was recognized by Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, with the Shogun Spotlight Award for his outstanding work performance. Photo taken Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, works with Kiminoreto Matsumoto, 718th CES architect, to conduct a final asbestos clearance inspection, Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Perez was recognized by the 18th Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, to receive the Shogun Spotlight Award for his outstanding work performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, works with Kiminoreto Matsumoto, 718th CES architect, to conduct a final asbestos clearance inspection, Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Perez was recognized by the 18th Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, to receive the Shogun Spotlight Award for his outstanding work performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, conducts a final asbestos clearance inspection, Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Perez grew up in the Philippines with dreams of coming to the United States. He followed his stepbrother’s footsteps and became the second member in his family to serve in the U.S. military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jomar Perez, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron construction management inspector, conducts a final asbestos clearance inspection, Sept. 11, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Perez grew up in the Philippines with dreams of coming to the United States. He followed his stepbrother’s footsteps and became the second member in his family to serve in the U.S. military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Kadena Air Base, Japan -- Across the spectrum of Air Force careers, Airmen often progress through similar timelines: basic military training, technical education, job apprenticeship, developing leadership skills and management positions.

According to one staff sergeant in the 718th Civil Engineer Squadron, he defining factor that makes the difference in each Airman's career is perspective, which can be dramatically different as an immigrant.

Jomar Perez began a new life in the USA after spending the first 19 years of his youth in the Philippines. He found a job working in a department store -- a feat that was much shorter termed than his next line of work.

"I had already achieved my dream of moving to the states," Perez said, "but I realized real quickly that [retail] wasn't for me and I didn't see a lot of progression in it. I needed a change."

Perez looked to his older stepbrother Caesar, a U.S. Navy sailor, for inspiration and decided that he wanted to follow a similar path of service. He met up with an Air Force recruiter and found an opportunity to begin his basic military training the next month.

"Life was so simple before I joined," Perez said. "This was the first time I was really ambitious about anything. It was a real struggle to keep up with my training because I was still adapting to a new culture."

He left his technical school as a construction management apprentice. Emails, briefings, on the job training and physical training became a regular part of Perez's lifestyle faster than he anticipated; all of which were new to him.

To make matters even more different, his first duty station was Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, a landlocked location with a climate that reaches below-zero temperatures in the winter. Perez said Minot was the complete opposite of what he was used to.

Although Perez was facing a new set of challenges, such as adjusting to a new job and climate, he continued to remind himself of how grateful he was for his career.

"Every time I had a problem," he said, "I would always think about how far I had gone already, and I guess that's what kept me motivated."

As Perez's career steadily moved in a positive direction, he also took notice of other Airmen who also had unique stories of their own.

"I kept seeing all these high-ranking Airmen who were also from all over the world, especially on my second assignment." he said "And that's when it hit me - if they can do it, I can do it too."

A new mentality kicked in. Rather than seeing his foreign background as a hindrance, Perez recognized it as a challenge that strengthened his character in the long run. Even Perez's leadership identified with his acquired strengths.

"When it comes to adapting to a new culture, I can relate to that as well, so I understand him better than most people," said Tech. Sgt. Kossiva Akou, Perez's supervisor, "Going through those hardships has made him a better person and more empathetic towards others."

On Aug. 31, Perez was recognized by the 18th Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, with the Shogun Spotlight Award for his outstanding work performance.

In Akou's observation, Perez's confidence grew to an all-time high and his positive attitude has influenced everyone around him.

"Looking back now, I've improved so much. At one point, I always doubted myself because I didn't always feel like I fit in. Now it's like none of those matters anymore. There's just so much diversity in the Air Force; it's really like a family now."

Now that he has overcome the barrier of insecurities he once had as a young Airman, Perez said he wants to be the type of NCO who can inspire others who are coming from similar circumstances through leading by example and sharing his change of perspective.