Sizzling ambitions

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gavin Hameed
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

In the eerie silence of midnight, the soft glow of Saw Lournn Poe Phyu's phone illuminated her face as she sat with her family in a dimly lit room.

The world outside was hushed, the only audible sounds being the distant hum of a passing car and the occasional rustle of leaves in the wind.

Phyu's fingers danced across the screen, scrolling through a sea of online applications. Each swipe carried the weight of anticipation as if the pixels held the key to a brighter future.
The clock on her phone read 12 a.m., marking the end of another day amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The room was tense as Phyu's family gathered; their hands clasped in a collective prayer.
The air seemed heavy with dreams and aspirations, each heartbeat echoing the shared desire for change. Phyu's eyes, tired from the day's struggles, scanned through the digital forms that held the fate of her family.

"Thank you for applying," she read aloud, her voice carrying a note of disappointment.
Yet, undeterred, she continued, methodically reviewing each family member's application – her brother, sister, father, and finally, mother.

The room held its breath as Phyu navigated through the virtual lottery of hopes.
Tears welled up in Phyu's eyes as she gasped, a mix of disbelief and joy escaping her lips. She turned the screen to her mother, who let out a scream that pierced the stillness - a shout of pure, unbridled excitement. They just hit the jackpot and won the lottery.

It was not a typical lottery of money, but a Diversity Visa lottery: visas that granted Phyu’s family the opportunity to live in America, the land of dreams. In a world of uncertainty, Phyu and her family had grasped a lifeline - a chance for a new beginning.

Burners On

Phyu's journey started in Myanmar, a large country in Southeast Asia bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand known for its Buddhist temples scattered across the country.

Since Phyu was a child, she has always been competitive in academics. In her childhood days, she usually scored in the top percentile of the class, but as she grew older, the competition for the top spots grew fierce, and not everyone wanted to play fair.

“When I was in elementary, I aced all my classes,” Phyu said. “In fact, I was the top student in the whole school, that feeling of being in first place motivated me to study harder.” she said.

“When I got older, I noticed that the other kids’ parents would bribe the teachers so that they would have better grades and get into better schools,” she continued. “Even though I studied hard, my results were not satisfying.”

Due to the lack of integrity in the school system, Phyu received little recognition; despite this, she continued to aim for the skies and study hard.

Six months after arriving in America, Phyu embarked on a new chapter in her life by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.

Expressing her motivation, Phyu shared: "I still aspired to further my education, but the cost of school was too expensive. When I learned about the education benefits offered by the military, I made the decision to join. Being the most proficient English speaker in my family, I aimed to contribute the best way I could and support them."

Heating Up

Upon landing in San Antonio, Texas, the atmosphere was nerve-racking for many. However, Phyu was calm, having slept through most of the flights, and she couldn't fathom the anxiety displayed by her fellow trainees. Perplexed, she observed their unease.

It was when the trainees boarded the buses that Phyu began to understand. The silence during the bus ride to Basic Military Training conveyed a shared tension among the recruits, revealing the gravity of the journey they were about to undertake.

The trainees were greeted by their Military Training Instructor, the embodiment of military discipline, who stood before the trainees with an imposing presence.

His gaze, sharp and unyielding, seemed to dissect each trainee individually. The glare beneath the brim of his campaign hat intensified the gravity of the training environment.

Contrary to the trainees' expectations of screaming and chaos, Phyu’s instructor defied the stereotypes of what an MTI is supposed to sound like. He communicated in an assertive yet composed tone, stating, "What's the point of yelling if you don't understand what's going on?"

Phyu recounted his words, setting a different tone for her training.

Reflecting on her BMT journey, Phyu admitted, "My biggest struggle was definitely physical training. In my country, we don't have anything like that, so I was a little under prepared."

Sit-ups, a staple of the PT regimen, proved a formidable adversary. Phyu highlighted the unfamiliarity of this exercise, she said.

The controlled, repetitive motion required for sit-ups posed a unique challenge, testing her physical strength and ability to adapt to rigorous training standards.

The mile-and-a-half run presented another hurdle, pushing Phyu beyond her accustomed limits. In her homeland, such structured, timed runs were not a part of her routine.

The endurance required for this physical trial demanded a level of cardiovascular fitness that was initially alien to her.

Undeterred by these challenges, Phyu approached her struggles with tenacity and an unwavering commitment to improvement. Through grueling workouts, she pushed herself beyond her perceived limitations, gradually conquering each sit-up and the demanding mile-and-a-half run.

Her journey was a physical transformation and a testament to her resilience in overcoming challenges, emerging stronger on the other side of each demanding PT session.

As she navigated these hurdles, Phyu honed her physical prowess and showcased the indomitable spirit required to succeed in the demanding landscape of BMT.

On graduation day, the flight gathered in the day room. To Phyu's surprise, her MTI presented her with an award for most significant improvement, acknowledging her dedication and progress throughout the demanding training process.

It felt nostalgic to Phyu, bringing her back to her childhood when she thrived at being at the top of the class. It rekindled that desire to be number one once again, igniting a sense of achievement and fulfillment that mirrored the ambitions of her younger self.

Give A Little Stir

There is never a quiet moment in the Chisholm Trail Dining Facility kitchen at McConnell Air Force Base, whether it’s the sound of a grill sizzling meat or the steady roar of the air vents circulating smells throughout the hall.

The faint sound of water rinsing dishes can be heard through the chatter between customers in the dining hall.

Time seems to fly by as it's already midnight. Airman 1st Class Phyu enters her dorm room, relieved that the busy workday is finally over, and relaxes in her bed as she embraces the silence for a moment.

After a short break, she opens a nearby laptop and begins studying where she left off.

“My main goal right now is to join the Air Force Academy and become an officer,” Phyu says with a smile. “Looking at how I can financially provide for my family, I learned about becoming an officer and that I had an opportunity to pursue that goal.”

Immersed in a whirlwind of responsibilities while working diligently in the DFAC, she managed to carve out precious moments of free time for pursuits that underscored her commitment to personal and professional growth.

Instead of idling away those moments, Phyu invests her time in studying for numerous tests, demonstrating a dedication to continuous learning.

As Phyu takes on the path toward the Air Force Academy, she must fulfill the requirements to gain her U.S. citizenship, complete her SAT’s and complete the end-of-course exams required by her job.

As her 22nd birthday loomed on the horizon, Phyu found herself facing a pressing deadline —the Academy's age cutoff at 22.

In a race against time, Phyu, intensified her efforts, pouring countless hours into her studies. She took on her cyber training with focused intent, recognizing that her proficiency was key to unlocking the doors to the Academy.

“Most Airmen take about 14 months to finish all their CBT’s,” said Tech. Sgt. Leon Brown, one of Phyu’s supervisors at the DFAC. “She’s done it in record-breaking time, completing her CBT’s under three months and scoring a 99 on her end-of-course exam; she’s playing no games,” he laughed with a proud smile.

Add The Seasoning

Her outstanding performance did not go unnoticed. Her squadron had selected Phyu to be recognized as their star performer when Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, was scheduled to visit the base.

“I was freaking out, a serious fangirl moment,” Phyu said with excitement in her eyes. “I had only seen her on the TVs at BMT. I never thought I would ever actually meet her.”

Phyu described what Bass represented when it came to female empowerment and detailed how societal norms and expectations in her native country systematically restricted women from attaining such positions, especially within the military.

Here, in the Air Force, Phyu realized the path to leadership was not predetermined by gender and offered a platform where women could ascend to remarkable heights.

In the moments leading up to Bass's visit, Phyu's anticipation mingled with nervous excitement.

As one of the star performers, she found herself at a meet-and-greet breakfast, face-to-face with her idol. The atmosphere buzzed with a mix of reverence and awe.
When the moment finally arrived, Phyu extended a slightly trembling hand to Chief Bass.

In a rush of emotions, she began recounting her extraordinary journey from Myanmar to the U.S. Air Force.

Chief Bass, listened intently to Phyu's story, nodding in acknowledgment and offering words of encouragement with genuine admiration.

With a smile that reflected shared pride, Bass awarded Phyu a coin for her exceptional performance. Overwhelmed with joy and a profound sense of accomplishment, Phyu clutched the coin in her hand, its weight symbolic of the recognition bestowed upon her.

Phyu reflected on the enormity of the moment. The screen that once separated her from Chief Bass during basic training had now dissolved, replaced by a direct and personal acknowledgment. It was a surreal experience, one that left her humbled and inspired.

Now We're Sizzlin’

In the lively atmosphere of the DFAC kitchen, amid the sounds of clashing utensils and the enticing smells of cooking, Phyu's tale unfolded as a testament to her unyielding work ethic and ambitions that stretched beyond her immediate responsibilities.

While she humbly reveled in her achievements, Phyu recognized that her journey was far from over. She still aims for officer status, so she persists in studying for the SAT’s and gaining U.S. citizenship before the age cutoff.

Undeterred by the challenge, Phyu pushes forward, driven by a belief in herself and the Air Force that she could attain the power and equality that her home country only glimpsed. It symbolizes a conviction that in the United States and within the Air Force, she can achieve a level of influence and fairness that had been out of reach in her homeland.

This chapter of Phyu's life, playing out amidst the vibrant chaos of the DFAC, holds a deeper significance than personal accomplishment. Despite the obstacles, Phyu maintains the same steadfast spirit that propelled her from Myanmar to the promising horizons of her American dream.