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Airman vows to protect life, liberty, pursuit of happiness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dakota LeGrand
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Airman 1st Class Lian Espinoza Fuentes, a food services journeyman with the 319th Force Support Squadron, spent years trying tirelessly to join the U.S. Air Force; vowing to protect the freedoms outlined in the United States Declaration of Independence without yet even being a U.S. citizen herself.

Espinoza Fuentes grew up in a rural area in Panama called Chiriquí Province, where she and her grandfather would wake up at the crack of dawn every day to milk cows and maintain their farm.

When she was a teenager, her family decided to leave Panama in hopes of finding additional opportunities elsewhere. She finally landed in the United States when she was 18 years old.

“I lived an entire life in another country; spoke another language, immersed in a totally different culture with separate food, customs and traditions,” Espinoza Fuentes said. “By moving here, my whole world changed.”

After getting settled in, she decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, a path that proved difficult for her. Espinoza Fuentes dedicated years of her life trying to enlist, and even had to complete high school for a second time at a school that was accepted by the military.

“I spent three years pursuing this and I was relieved when I could finally join,” Espinoza Fuentes said. “I really wanted to make a life for myself and to be a part of something meaningful.”

After joining the Air Force and completing her training, she was sent to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Here, she supports airmen of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, and therefore ensures the execution of the wing’s global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission.

While keeping up with the Air Force’s fast-paced work environment and supporting thousands of base personnel, she spent countless hours pursuing her U.S. citizenship. The process took over a year in total, and involved rigorous paperwork, passing the civics test, and jumping through a variety of administrative hoops.

Her hard work culminated on March 9, 2022, when she raised her right hand and swore the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

“My family is proud because this was a childhood dream for me,” Espinoza Fuentes said. “As a U.S. citizen, I now have more opportunities available to me, including commissioning.”

She is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree in pursuit of this new opportunity, through which she could continue to lead others and shape the next generation of airmen.

Diverse airmen like Espinoza Fuentes have built American air and space power through years of pushing through technological and cultural barriers. This September, the Air Force will celebrate its 75th birthday, recognizing the countless Airmen like her whose contributions have given the force a competitive edge over its adversaries.

Espinoza Fuentes carries her unique background with her while displaying the utmost dedication to protecting the freedoms for which the U.S. was founded upon 246 years ago.

“I find ways to carry my heritage with me, like playing soccer and eating foods from Panama,” Espinoza Fuentes said. “I love Panama but I also love this country and am proud to be in the United States military.”