LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- He stepped out his door and looked down the street. He saw homes with tires for walls and rust-covered steel roofs. For one Airman, this was normal. Airman 1st Class Lloydon Adler Balili, an optometry technician with the 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, was raised on the outskirts of Manila, Philippines, and faced many challenges as a child. Balili grew up on the second floor of a three-story house. The first floor was used as a schoolhouse, and the third floor was the church where his father worked. "My family didn't own the house, but we were allowed to stay there because my father worked at the church," Balili said. "We also used an unreliable water pump and allowed other families to use it if we ran out of clean water." Since Balili's father was a pastor, his income was solely based on donations. His mother worked at different companies as a salesperson.
"There were times when my mother made most of the money and my father wasn't getting much support," Balili said. "I remember eating only rice and soy sauce for meals. There were times when I didn't want to brush my teeth because we had to share the toothpaste. "I didn't think much about not having enough food because there were other kids worse off than me," he said. Not having enough food to eat wasn't the only problem Balili faced growing up in the Philippines. Balili and his younger sister lived with their aunt and uncle for a couple of months because their older sister had tuberculosis and was quarantined. "Even though I had my cousin to play with and my aunt and uncle provided a lot for my sister and me, it was difficult," Balili said. "It was hard not knowing how my parents were doing and if my older sister was doing well in the hospital." When Balili turned eight, he found out his family would be moving to America because his father received a job working for the Evangelical Free Church of America in Tracy, Calif. "I knew there were more races and cultures in California, and I thought that it was going to be tough to make friends, blend in and learn how to speak English better," Balili said. "I learned English as a second language in the Philippines, but actually using it was kind of weird." Balili was astonished at the amount of food he could eat upon arriving in California. "The day after arriving in California, my dad cooked chicken and gave me a bigger piece than I'm used to from being in the Philippines," he said. "I remember going to Burger King and not being able to finish the kid's meal burger because it was too huge." Balili noticed a difference between America's culture and the Philippines. "My neighbors kept to themselves more here, but in the Philippines, we would interact with our neighbors more," he said. "I definitely missed living in the Philippines around the holidays and felt I was happier there." After graduating high school, Balili joined the Air Force. "I joined to travel and gain my U.S. citizenship," he said. "I want to travel because I like to learn about different cultures and people. Getting my citizenship was important because it gives me more opportunities such as voting and re-enlisting in the military. It also reminds me how blessed this country is, and all the rights U.S. citizens have such as freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, because not all countries in the world provide that." Even after all his struggles, Balili has pushed himself to be an effective Airman. "He came and really hit the ground running," said Capt. Funmilayo Aranmolate, the 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry flight commander. "He learned the procedures and techniques very quickly. I think that since he's seen and experienced poverty he truly appreciates every opportunity he has been given here and takes advantage of it." Balili said he has gained more than just his citizenship since joining the Air Force. "I have gained more character and become more patient since enlisting," he said. "I don't like to change very much, but the military changes a lot and I've learned how to adjust and continue to grow as a person and an Airman."