All American: Meet the immigrant Airmen of 23 CONS

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Robert Leto
  • 23rd Contracting Squadron

It isn’t often you get a chance to meet Airmen that aren’t natural-born U.S. citizens serving in the military, but swing by the 23rd Contracting Squadron at Moody Air Force Base and you’ll have a high probability of running into one!

The 23rd CONS has had the good fortune of hosting the naturalization of not one, not two, but three service members in the last two years. The probability of this happening in any unit is extraordinarily low, but especially in this unit, where there are only 18 total enlisted members.

Here are their stories.

Airman 1st Class Christian Lau Wong
Originally born in Panama, Christian moved to Missouri on a student visa in 2006. Fast-forward to December 2, 2021, he cleared the final hurdle to becoming an American citizen by performing the citizenship interview in Jacksonville, Florida. The interview was the culmination of years of excitement, hard work, and challenges that began on the day of his arrival to the United States many years ago.

“It was cold and snowy,” Christian said. “I was scared and nervous, and the TSA agents laughed at me for my accent. I admit it was bad.”

He arrived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri to study engineering and manufacturing at Southeast Missouri State University. He was greeted warmly by his fellow students and an elderly couple that took him in like family. When he wasn’t studying, Christian would take long RV trips around the U.S., cultivating the deep connection he felt for his new country. He described one surreal experience when on a ferryboat ride out of a Michigan harbor that sailed him to the Canadian border.

“We were at the docks and there was a high wall right next to the boat deck,” he said. “I reached out and touched it. I could see the Canadian people’s feet walking above me and I could feel them looking at me. I was touching Canadian land, but it was that moment when I felt truly American. I belong on this side of the wall. This is my side.”

Through his experiences Christian developed a personal desire to give back, to express his gratitude to America by doing more. He applied for ROTC at his university but was unable to qualify due to his citizenship status.

“I often laugh about it,” he reflected. “If they had taken me then I would be close to an Air Force retirement by now. I would not have met my wife, so I guess it worked out for the best.”

After graduating with a double major in 2011, Lau Wong went to work in Oklahoma City where he met his wife Chanosphea or, Sophia, five years later. In 2020, at age 32, Christian decided the time was right to show his gratitude, and applied to join the Air Force.

“Back in Panama, America is a place you hear so much about,” he said. “Citizens of other countries dream of the laws and rules that protect your rights here. This is a great country. I feel it.”

Senior Airman Jesseca Edralin

Through family connections, Jesseca was able to leave the Philippines at 24 years old.

“It was a long process,” she said. “My aunt was the first to leave Manila back in the late ’80s. She petitioned to have her siblings join her in America. They were finally approved in 2010, over twenty years later.”

The process of immigrating was grueling in terms of documentation and expense. For just one individual, it took three months of salary to pay for the medical screening, the visa, and the plane ticket. Jesseca’s father made the journey in 2015 and was joined by Jesseca herself two long years later. When she arrived, much of her family had settled into jobs all over McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, including at the Base Exchange and lodging.

“They used to (jokingly) call us the ‘Edralin Mafia,” she said. “We had nine family members working on base at the time and secured a job at the front desk at the Base Exchange.”

She also had many friends who were military members, and through those friends she developed an appreciation for the Air Force and the benefits it provided. She saw it as a great opportunity to begin an independent life in America, and joined the Air Force in 2018 to pursue that dream.

After a year of service in 2019 she was officially sworn in as an American Citizen.

“It was the best decision of my life,” Edralin said. “The only word that comes to mind is ‘grateful.’ I’m living the life I always wanted in the United States. In the Philippines it’s very rare to buy a car in your twenties. The average age for that is like thirty-five. To buy a home it’s fifty! I was able to do both. Grateful. Grateful.”

Jesseca has more than proven her value to the Air Force as indicated by being the contracting career field’s No. 1 ranked of 91 staff sergeant selectees, and she also secured both the Air Combat Command and Air Force-level Contracting Airman of the Year awards!

Senior Airman Lucas “Rosa” Cristaldi
Lucas “Rosa” Cristaldi Cardoso joined the U.S. Air Force in 2019, where processing errors misinterpreted his middle names to be one long last name: Lucas Rosa-Cristaldi-Cardoso. Luckily he was allowed to wear just “Rosa” on his uniform—the name stuck even after he legally changed his name in 2020.

Born in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Rosa attended a modest catholic school that was located near a Brazilian naval base which greatly influenced how the school operated. There was physical training, early formation, and an emphasis on military history. Despite the structured upbringing, Rosa felt untethered to his native land.

“Brazil is a beautiful country with wonderful people and some of the finest cuisine on the planet, but it is also plagued by incompetence, corruption, poverty and crime,” Rosa said. “I never felt at home.”

His father left for America when he was just four, and he tried for years to help his son gain entry into the U.S. but was unsuccessful. When Lucas turned 18, he found a job in London, England as a computer programmer, but he knew he would not stay forever. His goal was the U.S., to experience the stories told by his father about America: abundant opportunities, rewarding work, safety, and the opportunity for prosperity.

His father also worked closely with the North Carolina Air National Guard in Charlotte and instilled Rosa with an appreciation for American air power and a desire to serve. He worked in England long enough to get the documentation necessary, lined up a programming job in New York City, and entered the U.S. His expectations were exceeded.

“The American dream is alive and well,” he declared. “I was being rewarded for my efforts. I felt safe when I stepped outdoors. I was comfortable in my day-to-day life. Nevertheless, I felt I was making little difference in the world.”

Rosa quickly found the Air Force recruiting office in New York and enlisted. He received American citizenship in 2020 while in service.

“Joining the Air Force made me an American, not just through my documents, but in spirit,” he said. “I would die for our flag in order to provide every American with the same chances this country gave me. I was born in Brazil, but I shall die an American.”

As of September 30, 2021, the U.S. Air Force employed 385,898 enlisted personnel between active duty, guard, and reserve components, and about 6% are non-U.S. citizens or recently naturalized U.S. citizens. The 23rd CONS is proud to be above average in a multitude of categories, but being above average in this category is extra special.