SFS Airman lives ‘American dream’

  • Published
  • By Airman Shen-Chia Chu
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
Part 3 of a 3-part series

People from all over the world come to America searching for opportunity. Leaving everything behind to chase after their dreams, some people leave their homeland to make money and become rich and wealthy. Others come to pursue freedom of speech, freedom of religion and unalienable rights. For one family, America was their only hope to escape and be reunited.

When she was a child, 2nd Lt. Lidia Iyassu's family fled to the United States. The lieutenant, who was born in Ethiopia and is Eritrean by heritage, serves here as the 436th Security Forces Squadron logistics officer.

"In 1975, Ethiopia was going through a political change as Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state," said Lieutenant Iyassu. "He had a hatred for anyone of Eritrean decent so any Eritrean in the Ethiopian military was put in jail."

Lieutenant Iyassu's father, Andemichael Tesfazion, a former lieutenant in the Ethiopian air force, served as a pilot for eight years.

"My father went to Sudan on a mission," said Lieutenant Iyassu. "He never returned from the mission."

Lieutenant Iyassu's father was apprehended on the mission and imprisoned for six years because of his heritage. Though he was jailed, he still was not released from service in the air force.

"Times were getting hard, so my father told my mother to escape from the country," said Lieutenant Iyassu. "My mother, brother, two younger sisters and I stayed in a refuge camp in Kenya for one year. We became candidates to come to the U.S. as political refugees through the Lutheran Church."

Arriving in Jacksonville, Fla., Lieutenant Iyassu said she did not have any expectations except meeting her father, who she hadn't seen for two years.

"When my father saw (us) for the first time, he was very happy," she said. "He was so happy to see us all in good health. It was a blessing for us all to be together again ... and, this time, for good."

Though her father had been imprisoned for being in the military, he wanted Lieutenant Iyassu to join the U.S. Air Force and encouraged her to become an officer.

Leading up to her joining the military, the lieutenant gained experience through the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps in high school and ROTC in college.

"Growing up, I saw the respect and admiration my father received by being in the military," she added. "That has a lot to do with why I've always wanted to join, and I love the structure and disciplined lifestyle of the military.

"My father wanted me to finish college first because (to my parents) earning a college degree was a privilege," she said. "My parents remain proud of my decision to serve. They don't want me to stop here with my career."

August will make two years of active duty for Lieutenant Iyassu. She's loved the entire journey so far, she said.

"I enjoy every aspect of my job and everyday I learn something new, which makes it exciting," said Lieutenant Iyassu about her job as a security forces officer. "I don't think I could be anywhere else but this career field."