Filipino native finds ‘home’ in U.S. Air Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Clinton Atkins
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is the last article in a series highlighting Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. 

It is said that home is where the heart is and one retired Coast Guard lieutenant has found his home at Hanscom. After retiring from the Coast Guard, Ben Manzano settled in the Boston area where he worked in the civilian sector, but soon realized that there was only one place he belonged -- with the military.

"This is home to me," Mr. Manzano said. "Even though I'm not an Air Force servicemember, this is where I belong." 

His journey "home," however, began thousands of miles away from the birthplace of the American Revolution. Mr. Manzano was born and raised in Silang, Cavite, Philippines. 

After graduating from a university in Manila in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in accounting, he was unable to find a job in his field of expertise. That same year, he came to the U.S. where he stayed with relatives in California. In the United States, he first worked as a store clerk. A co-worker introduced him to a military recruiter and Mr. Manzano joined the Coast Guard on June 21, 1971.

 After Mr. Manzano was stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Chautauqua based at Sand Island Coast Guard Base in Honolulu and at the Long Range Aids to Navigation Station A in Guam, he eventually became a Coast Guard storekeeper, a position that involved a number of logistical and financial tasks.

"It was the closest job I could find with a background in accounting," he said.

After becoming a storekeeper, he was sent to Sattahip, Thailand. There, he was placed in charge of logistics, aiding all Coast Guard units in Far East Asia, in particular the Far East Section Office in Saigon, Vietnam.

"I had very pleasant experiences in Thailand," Mr. Manzano said. "You learn how to adjust yourself in a place where you practice different customs. You learn how to behave well and show them who we are -- Americans."

During his time in Thailand, he worked alongside Air Force servicemembers daily and developed a good relationship with them while stationed at Utapao Air Base. Mr. Manzano also played in a supporting role during the withdrawal of U.S. forces out of Vietnam and Thailand at the end of the war in 1975. 

In 1980, he joined the ranks of Coast Guard Warrant Officers and commissioned with a specialty in Finance and Supply. "It was a new challenge in my military life," he said. "I was nervous and somewhat scared, but it was a challenge to prove that I could lead a group of people while learning a job with more responsibilities." 

Within nine years, Mr. Manzano rose through the warrant officer ranks. During his 19th year in the service, Mr. Manzano applied for a commissioning program to become a lieutenant. He was selected in June 1991. 

After serving 23 years protecting his new homeland, Mr. Manzano retired from the Coast Guard in 1994.

Mr. Manzano now lives with his wife and their three children in Randolph, Mass.

"Although the weather is so much different from where I grew up, I felt that I become a part of the community where I live, he said. "I really like the four seasons and the educational institutions." 

After his retirement, he tried to apply his military expertise in the civilian sector, but the shoe just would not fit. Mr. Manzano then decided to go back to what he knew best -- working with the military, only this time he was to serve alongside Airmen rather than Coast Guardsmen.

"I wanted to try a different aspect of the military," he said. 

At present, Mr. Manzano works with the Electronic Systems Center Contracting Office as a GS-13. He has been there for more than a year now. As a mentor to young military personnel, Mr. Manzano still feels that he is a part of the active-duty military family.

 "I love to speak to younger military personnel and relay to them how I started in the military," he said. "I tell them to get all the training they can possibly get and to continue their education anywhere they are stationed. 

"This is exactly where I want to retire from my civilian career," Mr. Manzano said. "There is nowhere else I would rather be." 

"It gives me comfort being inside the base and being around my fellow military," he said. 

"I am also surrounded with history and I never dreamed that I would be living at the center of all that I have read and learned in my high school U.S. history class -- this is where I belong," Mr. Manzano said.