Driven by island heritage, Guam native serves country, community, family

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Tano Y Chamorro, or “Land of the Chamorro” is written on every license plate on the island of Guam. For Guam natives, the island is not just a home, but a certain island spirit is pervasive to their way of life.

With his eyes lit with excitement, Tech. Sgt. Rolando Jose, 44th Aerial Port Squadron air transportation special handler, said he is proud to share stories of his island, culture and family background. Born and raised on Guam, Jose has been an Airman in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for the past 11 years.

Currently, Asian Americans and Pacific islanders make up about 4.5 percent of the Air Force, making him part of one of the smallest demographics to serve in the military. The month of May is designated to celebrate the heritage and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific islanders in the military.

“Especially knowing what a small percentage we represent, I feel proud to serve in the U.S. Air Force,” Jose said. “You can go on a deployment and see somebody from Guam or the Pacific region, and even though you never met this person, you feel linked to them. The culture is very family oriented and you feel an instant bond.”

With a Chamorro, Chinese and Filipino background, Jose grew up in a culture in which family is of vital importance and has learned from an early age to always offer a helping hand. Service to others, he said, is seen as important for building one’s character.

Throughout his adolescence, Jose said he has heard many stories about his family’s experiences during times of adversity—stories that have remained with him throughout the years. His father grew up during wartime in the Philippines, and made the decision to live alone from the age of 13 after the death of his parents. Jose also heard stories of his aunts who experienced hardships amid the Japanese occupation of Guam during World War II.

“Through my parents and other relatives’ experiences, I learned to value the things that you have now and also instill that in my children,” Jose said. “Knowing about my family’s background, provides motivation for me to strive to be the best I can be, and to never stop reaching for my goals.”

It was also his family that led him to his military journey after working for a few years following high school. Jose was initially unsure about enlisting in the military, but at the advice of his uncle and cousins who served in other branches, he decided he wanted to pursue this career path. In 2005 he enlisted in the Air Force Reserve at the age of 22.

“I never thought I would be doing this; but here I am, 11 years later,” Jose said. “It’s very rewarding to serve in the career field I'm in. Being an air transportation special handler is not the easiest job, but I'm always learning new things and I love it.”

Jose is responsible for the loading and unloading of cargo pallets and potentially hazardous material. Once he ensures hazards such as car batteries have been documented properly and military equipment and passenger cargo have been properly inspected, it is then loaded onto trucks and aircraft.

“Tech. Sgt. Jose is a dedicated and motivated Airman who contributes valuable experience and expertise to the overall mission and more importantly is a great mentor and leader to our team,” said Master Sgt. Vincent Toves, 44th APS NCO in charge of the special handling section. “He is a supportive wingman that integrates the military core values and philosophy in his military duties and civilian life. His character is energetic and essential to the overall representation of the 44th APS.”

When not wearing his Airman Battle Uniform, Jose continues to use his skillsets he learned in the Air Force when he dons his second uniform as a Transportation Security Administration agent at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. As the first line of defense at the airport, he checks baggage to ensure attacks are prevented and to keep thousands of people safe when flying to and from the island.

With three deployments already under his belt, Jose said he has gained perspective on what it means to really appreciate the little things life has to offer.

“Military life is very different from civilian life,” Jose said. “We are so used to comforts at home, but during deployments we have to make do with what we have. This is why I like being a civilian and a military member because I get to see both sides of the spectrum.”

Jose said he realizes not everyone gets to enjoy the little luxuries in life, which often have to be fought for. To him, this is yet another reason to believe in giving back to the community.

“It all stems back to my parents and the way they raised me,” he said. “I like helping people and encourage my kids to do the same. My children and I are involved in community service through our church as well as a kids club where we participate in cleanups and give back to the community.”

Jose said juggling military, civilian and family life can be a difficult task, but he loves the challenges and is becoming a better person because of them.

Throughout the years, island upbringing and cultural values have been important in his life and he strives to pass these ideals on to the next generation. Growing up, having respect not only for community elders but for all is a fundamental part of the Chamorro culture, Jose said, inspiring him to appreciate and respects hearing the advice and lessons from his wingmen in the military.

“During my time in the Air Force, the skills and advice I received from leaders has remained with me,” he said. “Personally, now that I am in the position I’m in as a leader, it’s not about myself anymore; it’s about my Airmen. If I know I made an impact on their career, that’s what is really rewarding.”

Serving with passion on his home island, Jose has decided to reenlist and remain in the military for the long haul. With a promotion to the rank of master sergeant on the horizon, he said he’s inspired to keep reaching for future goals, but at the same time to never forget his roots and where he came from.

“I love the Air Force and what I do,” Jose said. “I want to continue to serve past 20 years, if possible. I did not think I would get this far in my career so soon, which is a huge accomplishment for me. My motivation for all I do are my children; everything I do is for them and I make it my mission to make sure they go farther than me and are set up for success.”