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Military & Veterans' Issues

Thanksgiving Celebration Teaches Latin American Service Members About Tradition

A program unique to the United States Air Force and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is the Inter-American Forces Academy where servicemen and women from countries like Bolivia, Colombia and Peru take classes to learn maintenance, leadership and technical skills.

"We're here to teach them the way that we do training here in the United States,” said the academy’s Sgt. Andrew Salazar. “They're doing technical training. But at the same time, part of the interaction is building partnerships. We want them to understand a little more about ourselves so that here in the Western Hemisphere we can become more friendly."

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, leaders are also teaching students the customs and traditions of the United States. Armed with turkey, dressing, cranberries and pumpkin pie, the students listened as commanders talked about the American holiday.

"Thanksgiving is a traditional celebration in the United States of America,” said the speaker. “It's a day for family and friends to get together and enjoy dinner."

Credit Ryan Loyd / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Sgt. Tasha Diaz fills her plate up for a Thanksgiving celebration at JBSA-Lackland.

Sgt. Albert Gomez from Colombia is in his Army’s aviation division.

"I'm so happy to be here," said Gomez. “It's a great moment for me to study here.”

Gomez and the others stopped regular classes to give thanks and engage in good conversation over lunch. Through Sgt. Tasha Diaz, who is an instructor at the academy and translated, Sgt. Nelson Mondragon said he is thankful for the opportunity he has to come here and learn, and is also thankful that other countries are here to learn about other cultures.

For Sgt. Hernan Restrepo, it’s an important day for his daughter. He will learn if she has cancer or not.

“He knows that although today they're going to give him results of his daughter having or not having cancer, he knows that God is going to be there for him and he's thankful that those results are going to come out OK,” said Diaz.

Gomez's on the job training will grant him the knowledge to help his country's Army sustain itself. But his newfound friendships have the same measure of importance.

"You can share with different people from here, from not only from USA guys,” Gomez said. “Other countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, USA, around the world."