Meet Filipino who will graduate with honors at US academy

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at May 22 2013 10:48 AM | Updated as of May 28 2013 12:22 AM

Theodore Karl Quijano

COLORADO - Growing up in the fringes of the Dipolog city airport, Theodore Karl Quijano was bitten early by the lure of flight and that has taken him all the way to Colorado, where he graduates next week from the US Air Force Academy.

With the cost of college proving too much of a burden on his family, Quijano decided to apply at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, and later saw the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream by competing for a slot in the USAFA.

“I grew up right next to the airport,” he revealed. “I saw planes land and take off every day and the sight made me dream to be able to fly those aircraft one day.”

He not only learned to fly, he soared in the Academy, achieving feats that should make Filipinos proud – he was given command of Cadet Squadron 10 last Fall after being assigned as Cadet Wing Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, said to be one of the highest positions in the Academy managing over 4,000 people, during the Summer. A year earlier, he was also made Superintendent of CS-10.

“God, family and country – it was clear to me that I was doing this for them, not for myself,” Quijano said. “I wanted to work for something bigger than myself. This made me stand out in the Academy and drove others to have the same outlook.”

As part of the graduating class of 2013, he marches with honors at Falcon Field next Wednesday. He belongs to the Superintendent’s (overall excellence) and Dean’s (academic excellence) list. Quijano will also receive the Outstanding Basic Cadet Award from the Academy’s Commandant for finishing 1st in the class of 1,300 cadets for military excellence.

In addition he will get his Parachutist Badge, Space Wings (for completing the space operations program that taught him, among others, how to operate satellites), Glider Pilot Wings and the Powered Flight Wings.

Quijano ranked 2nd in athletics for his batch and is the only Filipino cadet (out of 15 who preceded him in the USAFA since 1956) to get a perfect physical fitness score in the Academy’s 500 Club.

The eldest in a brood of seven, he learned early on the challenges of being a leader in the family. “My father inspired me with stories about successful people both in the military and corporate worlds, and how I should work to be just like them when I grew up and help send my siblings to school.”

“But most of all I learned from my parents the value of living with honor, integrity and service to others,” Quijano said.

He spent three years at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman, Quezon City but the expenses were taking a toll on the family finances, Quijano explained, so he grabbed the opportunity to enter the PMA where he not only got a free education, he also got a modest stipend and the guarantee of a good job after graduation.

He later took the tests to qualify for the United States Service Academies – one of the most rigorous examinations that allows only the brightest and strongest candidates from all over Southeast Asia to join West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy and Marines) and the Air Force Academy (the Philippines used to have yearly slots reserved in these schools until the US closed its military bases in the country).

Life in USAFA wasn’t easy, Quijano conceded. There wasn’t much difference in training concept with PMA, he added, but it still took a heavy mental, physical and emotional toll partly because he was so far from home and family.

“I couldn’t let my American counterparts look down on me; that’s why I strived to be better at everything I do every single day – whether it’s military, athletics or academics. It just so happened I excelled militarily and athletically. I had the right attitude which PMA equipped me with and it helped me get through the difficult times,” Quijano explained.

After the graduation ceremonies, the foreign cadets are usually ushered to a separate ceremony where they will get their officer’s commission from their respective countries. The Philippine Air Force’s DC-based military attaché, Col. Arnel Duco is expected to swear him in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the PAF.

“I intend to serve my country to the utmost of my abilities,” Quijano stressed. “I will use what I learned here to be an asset for change and innovation in the military. I will do what I can at my level to hopefully affect the bigger system.”

It’s been a long journey for the young man whose dreams were built watching the planes fly in and out of the runway close to their home. So, near the end of four years of study and toil, the newly-minted Philippine Air Force officer declared his most ardent wish, “I hope to fly the Philippine’s aircraft soon.”