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    From the Drive-Thru to the Corner Office



    Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Pyoung Yi 

    USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71)   

    Around the world, America is known as the land of opportunity. It is like a glowing billboard constantly in view of those who may live in hard-bitten circumstances, in lands where people cannot simply be whoever they want to be. The United States beckons them to come, to settle in its vast territory and pursue the life they dreamed of.

    In 2006, at age 25, Chief Yeoman Lilyjane Ignacio, leading chief petty officer of the CO’s and XO’s administration office (X1 Division) assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), found herself in this fabled country in which the tract housing and gleaming automobiles were a stark contrast to the mango and coconut farms and motorized tricycles of day-to-day life in the Philippines.

    “Coming here with all these luxuries, like having a car, it was a bit of a culture shock,” said Ignacio. “We didn’t need a car in the Philippines. We had the means to go anywhere by bus, jeepney, or tricycles.”

    Ignacio, who had recently settled in San Diego with her husband, began work at a fast-food restaurant, taking drive-thru orders her first day on the job.

    “My husband went to work everyday and I was bored at home after immigrating here,” said Ignacio. “One day I walked into a fast-food place across the street from our house. I saw the manager was Filipino. I spoke to her in Tagalog and asked her: ‘Do you guys have an opening here?’ She told me I could start the next day.”

    In the Philippines, Ignacio earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. But, at the time, due to her non-fluency in English and the lack of name recognition of her alma mater to local employers, she accepted the offer to work a part-time job.

    “I barely spoke English when I first started,” said Ignacio. “But working the drive-thru was not too hard because I just said a standard line: ‘Good morning sir or ma’am, may I take your order?’”

    Ignacio said once customers drove up to the cashier window, they would sometimes ask for extra items. These face-to-face customer interactions helped develop her conversational English skills.

    “Sometimes the customers would start talking to me and I was able to comprehend what they were saying, then a conversation started from there,” said Ignacio. “That’s how I learned the language.”

    Ignacio, along with her parents, three brothers and a sister, grew up in Pangasinan, a beach town four hours north of the Philippines’ capital city of Manila. Ignacio’s mother and father ran their own restaurant in front of their home. Prior to immigrating to the U.S., she was working as an office secretary for a K-12 school.

    “You’re not going to get the job you want in the Philippines,” said Ignacio. “Filipinos grab whatever opportunity comes their way. You see families separated, with their mothers and fathers working overseas because jobs are scarce there.”

    After two weeks at the fast-food restaurant, Ignacio received her first paycheck: $215.

    “I was so amazed when I converted the money to Philippine pesos,” said Ignacio. “It turned out to be equal to two months wages in the Philippines.”

    Within her first year working at the restaurant in San Diego, a Navy recruiter ordered breakfast at the drive-thru and noticed Ignacio was Filipino. The recruiter began speaking to her in Tagalog about potentially joining the Navy.

    “He told me: ‘Hey, what are you doing working here?’” said Ignacio. “I told him: ‘I’m working.’ Then he asked me when was my break time so he could come talk to me about enlisting.’”

    From the recruiter, Ignacio learned because of her bachelor’s degree, she could start as an E-3 as soon as she completed basic training. After passing the ASVAB, she signed her contract as an electrician’s mate fireman (EMFN).

    “I told myself: ‘If I pass the ASVAB, I’ll do it,” said Ignacio.

    According to Ignacio, her adjustment to the disciplined culture at Recruit Training Command was fairly easy.

    “The training, the yelling, was nothing to me,” said Ignacio. “Compared to the kids who were with me at the time, they were crying. I already experienced that during my upbringing. My mother was the disciplinarian of our family, so it was not new to me.”

    Due to a medical issue after graduating boot camp, Ignacio was not able to attend EMFN “A” school. Once she arrived at her first command, Regional Legal Service Office (RLSO) Southwest at Naval Base San Diego, she began working as an undesignated fireman under a chief legalman, becoming familiar with Navy legal work.

    “One day, my chief told me: ‘Hey, you need to pick a rate,’” said Ignacio. “She recommended I become a yeoman because I didn’t have to go to ‘A’ school for it. I just had to learn the job and that’s it.”

    Within approximately 18 months, Ignacio completed the necessary training to become a yeoman and eventually achieved the rank of YN3 at RLSO Southwest.

    After making YN2 at her second command, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77, Ignacio advanced to YN1 at Commander, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1 (COMLCSRON ONE) in San Diego, seven years after joining the Navy.

    During her time at her third duty station, Ignacio earned her master’s degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management from National University. In 2017, three years after advancing to E-6, Ignacio became a chief petty officer at COMLCSRON ONE.

    “I believe taking care of my Sailors personally and professionally helped me make chief,” said Ignacio. “Their well-being was my priority. I made sure they always look forward to coming in to work with high morale.”

    Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Verdell, administration department head assigned to Theodore Roosevelt, also noticed the empathy Ignacio displays when managing her Sailors.

    “Ignacio cares about those she leads and the quality of work she produces,” said Verdell. “She believes in treating others the way she wants to be treated. Her ability to correct her Sailors without losing them in the process is admirable.”

    Growing up in the Philippines and being raised by Filipino parents, Ignacio was taught to be resilient and share resources with others in the midst of natural disasters.

    “We get a lot of typhoons in the Philippines. We’re right in the middle of the globe, where typhoons pass by,” said Ignacio. “The typhoons were pretty strong. But we would bounce back the following day. The neighbors and us, we would all get together and share what we had since we couldn’t go to the market.”

    According to Ignacio, she brings this shared-family mentality to her workplace. She sees the Sailors in her department as her extended kinfolk, and takes her responsibility in instructing her sailors and equipping them very seriously.

    “I see the Sailors I work with as my kids, but that doesn’t mean I babysit them,” said Ignacio. “Some of them, like me, struck yeoman. I want to make sure they receive all the training they can get from us and become capable and efficient yeomen before they transfer from the Roosevelt.”

    Ignacio said when it comes to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, she believes it is important for all Americans to remember and celebrate all the contributions Asian Pacific Americans have made. She says the nation’s success is due in large part to the diversity of its citizenship.

    “We have so much talent we can share, lessons we can learn from each other,” said Ignacio. “The diverse cultures, talents, and traditions combined helped shape our nation’s history.”

    Ignacio has come a long way, growing up on the white sand beaches of Pangasinan to working part-time at a fast-food drive-thru, she now commands immediate respect wherever she walks as a Navy chief aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) — a shining example of the immigrant dream realized.



    Date Taken: 05.01.2019
    Date Posted: 10.07.2019 14:18
    Story ID: 346351
    Location: SAN DIEGO, CA, US 

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