S. African transforms into Airman, citizen

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Travelling 8,258 miles from the tip of one continent to the east coast of another, a family of four uprooted their lives with the vision of a fresh start, capitalizing on opportunities afforded in the United States.

With the economy steadily declining and crime increasing day by day in South Africa, America was a better location to raise two children.

“I was nine years old when we moved to North Carolina and only fluent in Afrikaans,” recalls the Port Elizabeth, South Africa, native.

Petri Brand entered the third grade with next to no knowledge of the English language. However, by the time the long, hot summer days grew shorter and leaves turned, he was fluent enough to continue education without falling behind.

“I took one-on-one lessons with an English tutor in order to quickly learn the language,” said Brand. “This was the most difficult part of the transition; even though English is widely spoken throughout South Africa and taught in school, I was not at the same level of comprehension.”

As Brand’s time in the U.S. eventually blurred his younger years in South Africa, he decided he wanted to not only become an American citizen, but also serve in the military.

“My older brother enlisted in the Navy when he was 19 years of age,” Brand said. “He is my role model; so I decided to follow in his footsteps in joining the military, however, rather than going the Navy route, I joined the Air Force. It was the best fit for me.”

Brand raised his right hand and took the oath to protect and defend the country he now calls home in October 2014.

“I didn’t become a U.S. citizen until I graduated basic, so not only did I feel the excitement of graduating basic training but I also was now a citizen,” Brand explained. “It was a win, win.”

With math and science being the subjects intriguing Brand’s curiosity the most, his recruiter slotted him for a job as a bioenvironmental engineer technician.

The Air Force makes me feel like I'm doing something greater than myself by potentially affecting thousands of people on base and through the Air Foce," said Brand.

After being assigned to the 35th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Brand began his upgrade training and learned how his newly found skill set impacts the Wild Weasel mission.

“I conduct health risk assessment from an environmental and occupational standpoint,” Brand explained. “This includes visiting units around the base and ensuring the Airmen use proper measures to safely conduct the mission with minimal impact to their health and the environment.”

Monthly water sampling and contingency operations are also among Brand’s duties.

“Receiving Japan as my first duty station was very exciting,” he said. “Since being here, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and also met and married the love of my life.”

Brand, and wife Staff Sgt. Taylor Brand, a 35th AMDS aerospace medicine technician, met through work.

Although they fall under the same squadron, their jobs are vastly different.

“We have a basic understanding of one another’s job which is great for us to have each other to lean on when a fresh perspective is needed,” Brand said.

The couple currently plans to visit South Africa next year.
“I am currently learning Afrikaans and I can’t wait to use what I have learned and see in person how beautiful it is,” Taylor said.

One of Taylor’s favorite quotes in Afrikaans, translated is, ‘Learn to see the beauty in everything.’ This fits Brand because he tends to always find the best in a bad situation.

“He keeps a very positive outlook on life and that’s what intrigued me most,” Taylor continued.

The couple looks forward to continuing their Air Force careers together and traveling the world.

"Being an Airman, it is key to learn how to adapt; therefore, it was much easier adapting to the Air Force due to the huge change I had to make as a young boy coming to the United States," concluded Brand.