Airman leaves Dominican Republic to pursue the American dream

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
Growing up in Consuelo, a small town in the Dominican Republic, an Airman from the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron was torn between staying behind to help support his seven siblings or perusing the American dream.

“I came from a modest family,” said Tech. Sgt. Rafael Escoto Roa, 571st MSAS air transportation specialist air advisor. “My father made just enough money to support the family.”

When Escoto was only 16, his life drastically changed when their house burned down due to an electrical fire and his dad was laid-off from his job at the same time.

“That was a rough time,” he said. “After my dad lost his job, he decided to migrate to the United States in search of better job opportunities.”

During his fathers’ absence, Escoto became the only male figure in the house with seven sisters and his step-mother.

After graduating high school, his dream was to go to college to pursue an education in Computer Science, but he knew that also meant he’d have to leave his family behind.

“My mom knew how much this meant to me, so she gave me her blessing and sent me to the U.S. to pursue my dream,” Escoto said.

He packed his bags and started his journey into an unknown territory. Escoto first moved to Miami, Florida, but quickly realized he could not afford the schools there. He then moved to New York with hopes of getting some help to pay for schools through grants or scholarships. Yet again, he could not find the schools or the help he was looking for.

While searching for schools, he became interested in the military.

After some research, Escoto became fascinated with the U.S. Air Force mission and decided to join the service in 1999.

Two years later, the entire country was shaken after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“At that time, I was stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and I was told I couldn’t deploy because I needed to be a citizen,” he said. “We had a lot of missions going out and I always had to stay behind because of my immigration status.”

Escoto felt it was his duty to deploy with his fellow Airmen and he desperately wanted to serve the country that had helped his family for so many years.

“I was trying to find out a way that I could became a citizen, I wanted to deploy,” he said. “I found out about the expedited citizenship program, so once I met the necessary pre-requisites I submitted my citizenship application.”

Escoto said he waited with anticipation for the moment he could deploy with his team.

“After becoming a U.S. citizen, I felt like I was finally part of the team,” he said. “I was no longer the Airman that had to be left behind. I was right there with my team, going out the door and taking care of the mission.”

While serving in the military, he also completed his master’s degree in Cyber Security and several IT certifications.

After almost 20 years of service, Escoto said he feels humble and lucky to be retiring in one of the greatest units in the U.S. Air Force.

“To say that the 571st MSAS has been a highlight in my career is an understatement,” he said. “Being able to have an impact on the Latin community has been a dream of mine for some time.”

The 571st MSAS mission is to strengthen partner nation’s capabilities through providing assessments, training, advising and assisting partner nations in developing their own airpower capabilities. The unit includes Spanish speaking Airmen and is aligned with the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.

Master Sgt. Jose Cruz, 571st MSAS senior air advisor, understands the importance of diversity in the unit and believes the U.S. Air Force benefits from having Airmen from different parts of the world.

“Currently, we have seven air advisors in the 571st MSAS who joined the U.S. Air Force in a resident status and years later obtained their citizenship while serving,” Cruz said. “These individuals are now serving as air advisors in the USSOUTHCOM AOR with an advanced level of the Spanish language and cultural understanding of the region. This level of cultural awareness is nearly unachievable without their history.”

One of Escoto’s most memorable trips with the MSAS was during a mobile training mission to advise the Dominican Republic air force.

“My job as an air advisor is to help the U.S. Air Force to continue to build and foster relationships with the Latin community,” he said. “It was very rewarding to see first-hand how with each follow-on engagement we’re helping them improve their airpower capabilities.”

Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Minnifield, 571st MSAS Superintendent, spoke highly of Escoto and said that he has always been a valued member of the squadron.

“As a team sergeant, Escoto led all of our air advisors during the Dominican Republic training mission,” Minnifield said. “He worked hand in hand with the partner nations leadership, to include their Chiefs of Staffs, coordinating all the logistics, personnel and training courses.”

Aside from working with the Dominican Republic air force, Escoto was able to arrange an opportunity for him and his teammates to volunteer at one of the youth baseball leagues that he used to be a part of while growing up in Consuelo.

“I always wanted to go back to my town and do something for the community,” he said. “When I saw those kids, I immediately saw a mirror image of myself at that age. Back then, I’d have never guess in a million years that I’d be where I am today.”

“It was important for me that they could see me wearing this uniform,” Escoto added. “That day, those kids saw someone that was in the same place they are now…I wanted to show them that in life we can all be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

As Escoto nears the end of his career, he said a specific quote from John Maxwell resonates in his mind, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“The Air Force will forever be part of my family,” he said. “Let's care for those younger Airmen that may need someone to show them we care.”