Korey London, a former serviceman with the U.S. Air Force, recently
graduated from Augusta College in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently assistant
director of public relations at Paine College, also in Augusta.
When I was in elementary school, I remember listening to my teachers give history lessons about people, from mostly European countries, who wanted to come to the United States to find a better way of life during the early 1900s. The people who were able to purchase tickets and make the trip to the United States were called immigrants. The rumor was that America was the land of opportunity and had streets paved with gold.
I've never come across any of those streets, but there's always been plenty of opportunity in this country for those willing to take advantage of it.
I also remember history lessons about people who were captured on the west coast of Africa and shipped to the United States, South America, and the Caribbean Islands in the slave trade. I remember hearing about the horrible living conditions that these Africans experienced on the long crossing to The New World. I also remember the stories of cruelty that the Africans endured before the institution of slavery was abolished in the United States. I wondered how anyone could survive such difficult times. But they did. Sometimes, when I look at my own black skin, I wonder if I could have survived in those conditions. Then I thank God I didn't have to go through what my ancestors did.
So when I think of America, I often think of past generations of people who came to the United States in search of opportunities to improve their lives and also those who were brought here under the bondage of slavery and endured until better days came. Both groups overcame hardships and worked to prepare the younger generations to take advantage of better opportunities once they arrived.
The question, "What is an American?" is kind of tricky because, with the exception of Native Americans, we all come from countries outside the United States or, at least, our ancestors do.
My family is no different. My parents are from two tiny islands in the Caribbean West Indies. My mom is from Guadeloupe and my dad is from St. Maarten. They first met each other in St. Maarten when they were teenagers. They moved to the United States at different times in the late 1960s. When my mom arrived in New York and settled in, she found out that my dad was already here. Somehow she was able to find him and the rest, as they say, is history.
My dad eventually joined the U. S. Army and served for 20 years. His military career provided our family with a fairly comfortable life and allowed us to see parts of the world we probably wouldn't have visited otherwise. My brother enlisted in the U.S. Air Force when I was still in high school and I joined the Air Force after a year of college. At this point I have finished my commitment to the military and I'm almost finished with my college education, which was paid for by the military. In addition to the education I'm getting, I have several positive memories from serving my country in the U.S. Air Force.
I was fortunate enough to have one of the best jobs in the Air Force-working in the public affairs offices putting base newspapers together. The job allowed me to learn what other airmen in the service were doing to make sure the United States was safe and that help was available to those in need.
One of the more memorable experiences was when I traveled to a small remote village inside the Arctic Circle to help media from Anchorage, Alaska, cover a story about an airlift squadron's delivery of power generators and other supplies to the Alaskan Natives who lived there. The delivery was an annual event that took place a few weeks before Christmas. The best part was seeing how appreciative the people in that village were to receive the supplies and equipment. Helping that village of Alaskan Natives was a typical day's work to the airmen involved in making the delivery. Those airmen were living the Air Force core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All That We Do.
That's why it's difficult for me to watch the news or read a newspaper to find out about American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who've been killed in Iraq. I consider myself a patriot for the United States and joined the military to serve and protect my country, but my greatest reason for joining the military wasn't to go out and kill people. I wanted to earn money for my education and receive training for a career outside of the military. That's the reason a lot of the airmen I served with told me they joined the military. When I see those reports about the members of the military who've lost their lives, I know that it could have just as easily been me returning home in one of those body bags. But that's part of the sacrifice this new generation of military men and women have made so future generations won't have to endure another September 11 disaster.
From the e-journal "Snapshot USA".