Finding Family: Three Airmen develop new bonds in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shelby Rapert
  • 375th Wing Public Affairs Office

Three female Airmen hugging each other

Finding Family: Three Airmen develop new bonds in the Air Force

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Angemie Paula Mendaza, 375th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health technician, Airman 1st Class Ma Ann Geneli Dungca, 375th OMRS physical therapist, and Airman 1st Class Charlene Nulud, 375th Communications Support Squadron cyber systems operator, share a moment together on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, May 31, 2022. These Airmen enlisted in the Air Force after immigrating from the Philippines and have found friendship together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Shelby Rapert)

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Two females holding hands with their arms up in the air, in flower field.

Finding Family: Three Airmen develop new bonds in the Air Force

Courtesy photo by Airman 1st Class Angemie Paula Mendaza, 375th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health technician

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Family sitting together

Finding Family: Three Airmen develop new bonds in the Air Force

Courtesy Photo by Airman 1st Class Ma Ann Geneli Dungca, 375th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physical therapist

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Family standing together with food

Finding Family: Three Airmen develop new bonds in the Air Force

Courtesy photo by Airman 1st Class Charlene Nulud, 375th Communications Support Squadron cyber systems operator

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The ‘American Dream’ has brought thousands of people from all over the world to the United States in search of better opportunities.

For three Airmen at Scott Air Force Base, immigrating to the United States and joining the Air Force has provided them the chance to better their lives and create meaningful friendships.

Each Airman’s story is different and for Airman 1st Class Ma Ann Geneli Dungca, 375th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physical therapist, living in a new country wasn’t the easiest of transitions. Dungca lived with her family in the Philippines for 23 years. During that time, she graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in multimedia. After working for three years and developing a passion for graphic design, she moved to the United States; however finding a job in Delaware was a struggle.

“The nearest company I could apply for as a graphic artist was in Philadelphia,” she said. “So, I was like, ‘okay, I’m just going to let go of that dream’.”

Dungca found it difficult to be without her family, friends and dream job. The feeling of being alone in a new environment was tough, but Dungca said she took it one day at a time and refused to give up on her future.

“You’re going to hustle, fall down and get back up,” she said. “You have no other choice but to get back up.”

The medical field was a career that had always interested Dungca, however in her home country, it was never a possibility. Taking charge of her own future, Dungca enlisted in the Air Force last year to work as a physical therapist where she developed a new passion for helping those in need.

“From working with patients, you see their progression and how they improve from day one,” she said.

The Air Force also gave Dungca the ability to grow her professional skills as well. 

“I had a weakness in public speaking,” she said. “My supervisors would throw me into classes where I’d have to speak with a lot of people. If they can see that you can do it, they’re going to push you.”

 Airman 1st Class Charlene Nulud, 375th Communications Support Squadron cyber systems operator, chose to leave her family to start a new life in the United States.

Nulud was born in Pampanga, Philippines, surrounded by a family with a passion for Filipino cooking. Her family would spend time around the dinner table enjoying each other’s company and eating their favorite meals from a steamy bowl of sour Sinigang to a classic Pansit noodle meal.

When her parents divorced, her father immigrated to the United States. Years later and after some encouragement from her father, Nulud decided to follow him in search of opportunities to better her future.

“At first, I was sad because I didn’t have any friends, and I was very homesick,” she said. “I missed my friends and family back home.”

She took a job at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. It was there that she found new friends that were also from the Philippines.

“They would always cook Filipino food and invite me to their homes for parties,” she said.

During her two years at Nellis, Nulud observed the people around the base as they worked and walked around in their uniforms. She began to wonder what her life would be like if she joined the military.

“I want to wear that uniform,” she said. “[I wanted to] join the military and be independent.”

While Dunga and Nulud were optimistic about their new life away from their home country, Airman 1st Class Angemie Paula Mendaza, 375th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health technician, was reluctant at first.

Mendaza was not as enthusiastic at the idea of leaving her home country. She grew up surrounded by loved ones and family traditions. Growing up in a strict household, it was expected of her to succeed academically. But when her grades began to slip due to distractions, her mother and stepfather filed the paperwork to immigrate to the U.S. before she could even finish high school.

 “For years, my body was physically in the United States, but my mind and heart were still in the Philippines,” she said.

It wasn’t until her family moved to North Carolina that she began adjusting to her new life. Her stepfather taught her English and educated her on American culture.

“It was very hard, but I am thankful for it because now my mind is diverse,” she explained. “I get to have conversations with different people and relate to them.”

Mendaza used her struggles as a learning experience to better herself and adjust to her new life. She now had the foundation she needed to give back to the country– the one that gave her a second chance at success.

The Air Force gave her a career in the mental health field, and she now gives back by helping her patients while building a family of friends along the way.

Each of these women were stationed here at Scott and found new family ties with each other.

Their friendship began when Nulud was struggling to haul an oversized chair up the stairs in the base dorms here on base when Mendaza noticed her struggling and offered to lend her a hand. They began talking and discovered they were both Filipino.

Since then, Nulud and Mendaza formed a bond over their shared experiences, cultures and love for homemade Filipino cuisine. Months later, Mendaza met Dungca at the bowling alley on base. Almost instantly, they connected, becoming close friends who do everything together.

“I’ve been very blessed to have that connection with them,” Mendaza said. “It makes me feel like I’m at home.”

Mendaza and Dungca have since moved out of the dorms and live together.

The time difference between Scott and the Philippines is over 13 hours so finding the time to speak to family back home is difficult, however, having each other has created a new sense of family for these three.

“As the days go by, you get more comfortable with them,” said Dungca. “You end up with a family that you got to choose.”

 “They will push you and help you so you can do great things in life,” Nulud said. “What I really like about my friends is they’re always there for you.”