FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, AFGHANISTAN
NANGAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – There are many reasons why a person chooses to immigrate to America. For U.S. Army Spc. Gerard Umali, a native of the Philippines who moved to California when he was 19 years old, the reason was an opportunity provided by his uncle.
Gerard’s uncle, Raymundo Umali, who served in the U.S. Navy, petitioned for a visa for his brothers through a green card sponsor application for brothers and sisters.
“[I] finished my high school, and right after that our petition came up and we started practicing migration to the states,” said the younger Umali, a truck driver with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “We were all excited. We all wanted to see a different culture, and it was an opportunity for us.”
A few days after arriving in America, Raymundo did not waste any time in making the most out of this opportunity for his nephews. He took Gerard and his cousin to the Navy recruiter’s office almost as soon as the family set foot in America, said Gerard laughing.
Although he can laugh about it now, Umali recalls being very nervous, scared, and feeling as if he was not ready because of the language barrier at that time.
“You know they taught English back home, but we don’t really practice speaking,” said the 36-year-old Filipino.
Umali took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test with his cousin and did not pass the first time. Per military rules, he would not be allowed to take the exam for another six months. For a 19-year-old immigrant, six months was a long time to wait for steady employment, so he turned elsewhere.
Fourteen years later, Umali returned to the recruiting center to retake the ASVAB. In the years before, Umali had held various jobs. Some of those jobs included being a hotel clerk, serving food, and being a housekeeper. During this time Umali also married, had a daughter, got divorced, remarried to his present wife, Janice Umali, and had two more children.
With a family to support now and a struggling economy, he realized it was time for more change in his life, said Umali.
The idea for another turn of events was presented to him by the husband of Janice’s cousin, who visited the family and talked to him about joining the Army, explained Umali.
Although he was a little hesitant because he was 33 years old, and because his wife was not fully sold on the idea, Umali had a goal in mind as he traveled to the nearby military entrance processing station in Hayward, Calif., to take the ASVAB again.
“My goal is to get shelter for my family,” said Umali.
This time, he passed.
Once he passed, Umali was sent to the Defense Language Institute to improve his English at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After a month of schooling, he went to basic training and a few months later he would meet his goal. Upon graduating basic, Umali applied for a Veterans Administration loan and was finally able to purchase a home for his family
Umali, who joined the Army in 2009, now serves in Afghanistan as a tower guard at Forward Operating Base Fenty with Task Force Mountain Warrior. His reason for serving coincides with his unit’s motto of, “Led by love of country.”
“I chose to come in because I fell in love with America,” said Umali. “It did not just help me, it helped my whole family.”
“I was just glad I was given the opportunity to in return, serve the country,” said Umali.
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This work, Why we serve: US Army Spc. Gerard Umali, by SSG Alexis Ramos, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.