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One Airman’s Journey: Amn Wang Zhe

Airman Wang Zhe, 60th Comptroller Squadron, poses for a photo while holding a lanting xu, Chinese calligraphy, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 20, 2017. Wang is from Kaifeng, China and joined the U.S. Air Force in September 2016. Wang uses the lanting xu to remind him of his heritage. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Heide Couch)

Airman Wang Zhe, 60th Comptroller Squadron, poses for a photo while holding a lanting xu, Chinese calligraphy, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 20, 2017. Wang is from Kaifeng, China and joined the U.S. Air Force in September 2016. Wang uses the lanting xu to remind him of his heritage. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Heide Couch)

Airman Wang Zhe, 60th Comptroller Squadron, poses for a photo at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 20, 2017. Wang is from Kaifeng, China and joined the U.S. Air Force in September 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Heide Couch)

Airman Wang Zhe, 60th Comptroller Squadron, poses for a photo at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 20, 2017. Wang is from Kaifeng, China and joined the U.S. Air Force in September 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Heide Couch)

(Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a three-part series on diversity)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “I’m proud to be in the Air Force and represent the nation I come from,” said the young man.

He looks around the room and a smile covers his face. His eyes appear to light up like stars in the sky as he shares details of his home country, his motivation for joining the U.S. Air Force and how diversity makes the Air Force stronger.

“I believe I can help remove barriers and assist people from the United States and China understand each other more,” said Airman Wang Zhe, 60th Comptroller Squadron military pay technician from Kaifeng, China.

Wang grew up in Kaifeng, the Northern Song Dynasty capital from the 10th to 12th centuries. As a child, he enjoyed watching TV, reading and playing sports. He is also a fan of technology and said he admires the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. He dreams of becoming an aviation engineer one day. 

Wang moved to San Diego in April 2012 where he lived for a year. He later moved to Temecula, California, where he completed high school. After graduating in June 2014, he worked as a cashier at a restaurant and studied computer science at a community college.

He said there are several differences between Chinese and American culture.

High school in China featured 12 to 13 hour days filled with studying, said Wang. Students took classes in the morning, afternoon and evening, which is much longer than a typical day for a high school student in the U.S.

Also, a lot of things considered to be Chinese in the United States are not representative of traditional Chinese culture, such as fortune cookies or General Tso’s Chicken, said Wang.

Wang joined the Air Force in September 2016 and completed the Financial Management and Comptroller Apprentice Course at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, in February. He arrived at Travis AFB, California, in March and spends his workdays assisting the finance team with coding cases and managing service member debts.

“Wang has been a positive force on the unit,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Ellstrom, 60th CPTS financial services supervisor. “He is a true team player and has a positive attitude every day. He goes out of his way to give rides to team members without vehicles and recently helped our special actions team stay afloat during a manning shortage.”

“We were recently in a pinch because 37 percent of our team was out of the office during a critical week in our monthly processing, and we had several deadlines approaching,” said Ellstrom. “We needed to focus our efforts, so we trained Wang to help out the special actions team with computing manual payments and he took to it like a bird to worms. It was impressive to see how much he accomplished.”

During his short time with the 60th CPTS, Wang has helped the unit reconcile military leave by 93 percent and helped the unit in several other areas, said Ellstrom.

“He takes any work we throw his way and only needs to be shown how to do (something) once before he completes it correctly and sooner than we expect him to,” said Ellstrom. “Then, he follows up to make sure it was done right and asks for more. It's sometimes a bit of a process for me to get him to leave for the day.”

As a member of the 60th CPTS, Wang is part of a diverse group of more than 60 Airmen from seven different countries and four continents. He said he enjoys being part of such a diverse organization focused on such an important mission.

“We live together, work together and serve together, that bond between each other makes us stronger,” he said. “One of the greatest benefits of diversity, is it helps the Air Force accomplish its mission on an international level.”

“The Air Force is a global power,” he said. “We have the capability to provide rapid response nearly immediately for any disaster and diversity helps our Airmen wherever they go by enabling improved communication and understanding in other countries.”

The Air Force has supported combat and humanitarian missions all over the world. In May 2008, two Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft delivered relief supplies including food, water and generators to Sichuan Province in China after more than 32,000 people were killed in a devastating earthquake. In April 2016, the Air Force helped deliver more than 30 tons of supplies to Japan after a pair of earthquakes rocked the island nation.

Capitalizing on diversity in the future will help the Air Force continue to be the global power it is, said Wang.

“It is important the Air Force celebrate diversity and cultivate units of inclusion because we are representing the United States and we protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,” he said. “We need everyone from different backgrounds to come together to make a fist. Without inclusion, we are not able to use all the power (we have) to reach our goals.”

“Peace is the ultimate goal, but it won’t be possible if we don’t understand one another,” he said.