Saturday, May 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Lt. Raymond C. Gamboa is the only Filipino to graduate this year from a United States military academy, a feat his mother attributes to destiny after he was declared clinically dead as a young child and the peculiar way he got to take the entrance exams at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
Gamboa was the only Filipino and one of only 12 foreign cadets in a class of 1,021 that graduated from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Wednesday (May 25).
Lt. Raymond Gamboa (5th from left) is the only Filipino in the 2011 graduating class of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. He is joined in this photo by (L-R): PAF attaché Col. Arnel Duco, Haidee Gamboa (his mother), Dr. Marlon Mangahas, Riva Rei Gamboa (his sister), C3C Ken Quijano (another Filipino foreign exchange cadet in USAFA) and TSgt William Soriano.
Unlike in past years, there were no Filipinos in the graduating classes of the US Military Academy at West Point or the US Naval Academy in Annapolis this year. Gamboa was immediately sworn in as 2nd Lieutenant of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) by Col. Arnel Duco, the Air Force attaché based in Washington, DC.
Only the top 20 academic achievers at PMA get a chance to take the competitive exams to enter American military academies, and they would have to turn in scores that can best those from other southeast Asian military academies. (There used to be slots reserved for PMAers when the US still had military bases in the country, but today, they have to compete for those slots with other US allies in the region.)
'Clinically dead'
Gamboa’s road to Colorado is a story in itself. He became severely ill during a family vacation in Batangas when he was just 4 years old, his mother Haidee, a consultant for Sofitel Hotel, told ABS-CBN News. He was foaming at the mouth and showed other signs of a seizure so they rushed him to St. Luke’s Medical Center where he was declared clinically dead.
But doctors didn’t give up and he was revived, pumping him with an assortment of medicines that his mother now jested, “seem to have made him brighter” – he was an honor student from pre-school all the way to high school at Ateneo.
“While he was recovering at the hospital, he seemed to take an interest in being a doctor one day. When he got older, he wanted to become a lawyer,” Haidee said. But in his senior year, he expressed an interest in entering PMA that his mother found odd since there were no soldiers in their family.
Gamboa surfed the Internet to learn more about PMA but for a time, couldn’t find a way to enlist for the exams and told his mother about it. Haidee said her son had about lost interest when one day she passed by Gateway Mall in Quezon City and stumbled upon PMA officers handing out application forms. “I think it was really God’s will,” she declared.
When Gamboa passed the week-long medical exams at the AFP Medical Center, Haidee lost any trepidation about her only son taking on the hazards of a soldier’s life.
Giving back
When he flies back next month, he will go back to teaching at PMA. “I will share what I’ve learned and I hope to improve academic and military training in the Academy,” he explained.
The Air Force is considered the most technical of the major branches of the military. “We had mostly academic work,” Gamboa revealed, “but we also had a chance to meet with people in US aircraft companies and do a solo flight in a T-52 (trainer plane).”
After his 6-month stint at the PMA, Gamboa, according to Duco, will need to earn his wings at the PAF Flying School in Lipa, Batangas. He will likely have to wait a year, though, because there is a long queue for aspiring PAF aviators. “We don’t have enough planes,” Duco stated matter-of-factly.
Years of budget constraints, accidents and obsolescence have depleted much of the PAF’s air assets. Lack of spare parts has forced them to cannibalize some aircraft to keep others aloft. The US is scheduled to deliver this summer a C-130 Hercules transport plane that’s now being refurbished at a facility in the Mojave Desert in California and complete the overhaul of engines to extend the operational life of MG-520 Defender helicopter gunships.
Gamboa is unfazed by conditions in the Air Force he’s investing the next years of his life in.
Right after the graduation ceremonies, we asked Haidee what motherly advice she gave him.
“I told him to pray and ask guidance from the Holy Spirit for any decision he has to make, and to pay back his country for the opportunity it gave him. Everything we have, we owe to our country,” she told her 23-year-old son.

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