JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) —
The United States was built on a foundation of worldwide immigration. From that foundation comes a rich history of people, of all backgrounds, who came together under the common values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For Airman 1st Class Marian Tawfik, 305th Aerial Port Squadron air transportation specialist at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, coming to America was a dream fulfilled. The journey was, at times, a perilous one, but has formed an immense sense of gratitude towards the rights and privileges many take for granted.
“I originally came to the U.S. from Minya, which is the capital of Upper Egypt,” Tawfik said. “Growing up, I always wanted to live in America and be a part of the culture. I looked at Americans’ opportunities, their rights and their overall quality of life and wanted those things for myself.”
Tawfik identifies as Coptic, which is a class of people in Egypt under Sharia Law who openly practice Christianity. Coptics make up roughly 20% of the population in Egypt and have been the targets of violence for decades leading up to the present day.
“When I was a young girl, I remember attending mass and having to hide from a man who came into our church and opened fire during the service,” Tawfik said. “I believe around 17 people were killed that day; incidents like that are commonplace for Coptics, even now, and that made observing my faith difficult.”
The situation worsened for Tawfik during the Arab Spring, roughly a decade ago, where a series of anti-government uprisings across the region left approximately 40 Coptic churches burned or damaged.
“It was after this time that I was able to apply for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program through the U.S. Embassy,” Tawfik said. “Through this program, selectees were drawn at random and given priority for visa’s free of cost. I was in shock when I realized I was one of those selected and that my dream of coming to America would be realized.”
In 2016, Tawfik was able to successfully immigrate to the U.S. and took up residency in Bayonne, New Jersey. There, she secured employment at a local steakhouse after going door to door in search of work.
“From the State Department to the local church that took me in, and especially my employers at that steakhouse, everyone was very kind to me,” Tawfik said. “They went out of their way to help me make a home here and even learn more English.”
Overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and new opportunities afforded to her under democracy, Tawfik desired to give back. Seeing service in the U.S. military as the ultimate reciprocity, she approached an Air Force recruiter and expressed her desire to enlist.
“The recruiter really worked with me despite my limited understanding of the language,” Tawfik said. I was also quickly approaching the age limit to serve and was concerned if I would be able to graduate in time.”
Once at basic military training the need to speak English well became paramount. Military training instructors expected Tawfik to understand their commands and instruction to the same standard as other trainees in order to pass the tests required to graduate.
“I would take early-morning entry control shifts, sometimes multiple shifts in a row, just to have extra time to study both English and the written test trainees take in order to graduate,” Tawfik said. “It was difficult, but with the help of my wingmen I was able to achieve a high score and learn English to the extent that I can speak it now.”
Tawfik graduated BMT, just a few days shy of the age limit, and went on to fulfill another dream of working with aircraft. As an aerial transportation specialist, she oversees the processing of Department of Defense travelers at the 305th APS Passenger Terminal.
“Coincidentally, I found myself back in New Jersey with my military assignment and also live in New Egypt, a local township,” Tawfik said. “I’m so grateful for my new life, to be able to drive a car, to vote, to have basic rights as a woman and observe my faith freely and openly. I would volunteer all of my time if I could just to pay the U.S. back for everything it has given me.”
Similar to her time at BMT, Tawfik’s APS wingmen spent hours helping her study for her citizenship test and she was able to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. citizen in recent months. She also spends time volunteering regularly at the Airman’s Attic and encourages others to share in the joy of giving back to their communities.
According to Tawfik, “Every day is special to me. I hope to be able to serve as long as possible. I’m proud to wear this uniform in the world’s greatest Air Force.”