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NEWS | Feb. 15, 2017

Airman follows father's footsteps into service

By Airman 1st Class Kevin West Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

She begged her parents to allow her to go with her sister on a vacation. She had no idea that this choice would change her life forever. 


Senior Airman Menebere Haileselassie, 628th Comptroller Squadron financial management technician, was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States at the age of 11 with her older sister.

Haileselassie didn’t understand why her mom was so emotional seeing them off at the airport. When she arrived in Washington D.C. she met her aunt for the first time. When she was later registered for school, she soon realized her visit was more than a vacation.

Haileselassie said she wasn’t happy living in this new place where she didn’t know anyone.

“My father wanted better opportunities for us, just like everybody else who comes to the United States,” said Haileselassie. “He wanted us to have better options. He wanted us to go to better schools and get better jobs. Nothing bad was happening back home.”


As they traversed this unique situation she and her sister created a unique bond. Her sister started college one year before she did. With some help from their dad, they were living off campus and going to school. However, they were putting a financial burden on him and they didn’t want to accumulate large a debt in student loans.


“I couldn’t imagine taking more loans,” said Haileselassie. “My dad used to help us with the rent for college, but I didn’t want him to have that burden. I thought the Navy would be the only option. My cousin advised us to join the Air Force, which I originally thought meant you had to be a pilot.”


She convinced her sister to follow in their father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force. He had previously served more than 25 years in the Ethiopian Air Force.


Unbeknownst to them, they would end up being sent to Basic Military Training (BMT) on the same day. 


“We didn’t plan it, but we both got the same Basic Military Training date,” said Haileselassie. “We were in the same flight and squadron and graduated together. On the day of graduation, we got our citizenship.”


The options for jobs in the Air Force was limited for noncitizens so they came in under open general, meaning they would make a list of jobs they were interested in during BMT and find out at their selection at graduation.


Neither one of them received any of the jobs on their lists, instead, they both received Financial Services. This would keep the sisters together yet again.


“We came in open general,” said Haileselassie. “Finance wasn’t on our list, so we were really surprised. We ended up going to technical school together and were in the same class.”


They continued their Air Force journey together, where they were once again placed in the same squadron at their technical school. They would go on to graduate in the same class before going off to the respective bases.

Haileselassie received orders for Joint Base Charleston and her sister is stationed at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina. 

This past September, Haileselassie accepted an overseas mission to various places including Ethiopia, bringing her yet again, close to family.

Haileselassie said she was excited to use her native language and for the possibility to see her family while in Ethiopia.


During mission preparations, it was determined that Haileselassie would have the opportunity to see her parents during the trip. In addition to her responsibilities as a comptroller, Haileselassie translated for the crew when they landed to arrange for fuel and ground services.


“They asked me if I wanted to go,” said Haileselassie. “I speak their language, Amharic. It was an opportunity for me to use it. I was excited. It was a couple of days before Ethiopian New Year. Everyone was getting ready to celebrate so my parents were pretty excited. It was a surprise to come there. I went home and stayed most of the day there because we had a rest period for the flight crew.”


Since joining the Air Force, Haileselassie realizes her family also extends beyond her relatives.


“I guess it is like you are part of a bigger thing,” said Haileselassie. “The Air Force is like a family. I feel like we formed a family anywhere we went."