Cultivating Culture: The Story of a First-Gen American Airman

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Antonia Herrera
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing

Growing up in Santa Ana, California, Alvaro Damian Villagomez was raised in a hard-working Mexican household, with both his parents hailing from Mexico and each working two jobs to support a family of five. As a U.S. Air Force First Term Airman, he has been able to incorporate that same work ethic into his role as a Public Affairs Apprentice at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England.

"I was born and raised in the U.S., but my heritage gave me a diverse perspective of the world,” said Villagomez. “I decided to join the Air Force after working two jobs and barely making it paycheck-to-paycheck. I didn’t want to endure the same struggles that my parents had formerly gone through early-on in their lives.

"I’m motivated to have a better life than what my parents had, I don’t care about money, I just want to be financially stable and live a happy life,” he said, assuring that the Air Force, thus far, has given him both of these.

Villagomez continues to bring his cultural experiences to better the Air Force, a journey that started for him just nine months ago.

"I never knew I was going to join the Air Force. I am a first-generation American and the first in my family to serve in the military," said Villagomez, a native of a predominantly Hispanic town. "When I joined my parents had no idea what that meant for me, now they know what my job entails and they fully support me.”

Whatever Villagomez decided to do in life, he knew he would have to put forth all his effort to succeed -- another lesson his parents taught him, he said.

"I learned so much from my parents' history as immigrants," explained Villagomez, whose parents came to America from Mexico in 1983 and 1992. "When they came to the U.S., they didn't speak English and didn't have money. Both of them worked hard, learned the language and became American citizens.

"They are both now very successful," he said proudly. "They taught me the importance of working hard for what you want in life."

Villagomez has traveled to Mexico, but his current assignment at RAF Mildenhall is his first time traveling overseas. The 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs shop serves as the only tanker unit in all of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa.

"I knew this was going to be a lot of work," Villagomez said of the 100th Air Refueling Wing mission and working behind the scenes as PA. “But I knew it would also be a lot of fun because my job allows me to experience new things and meet new people – it’s exciting."

Villagomez said his transition from training in a technical school environment to the operational Air Force was much different than he anticipated, but overall he has felt welcomed into the Air Force community.

"For the foreseeable future, I'm not sure if I’ll be staying for a full 20-year career in the military," Villagomez said, "but I know that I’ll cherish the time that I have.

"I appreciate the Air Force," he added. "It's given me the opportunity to create a better life for myself."