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Naturalized Airman – From Struggles to Stripes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexandria Lee
  • 100 Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

“When I returned home to Belarus to visit after a few years of being in the states I loved it,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Olga Buzhak, 352nd Special Operations Wing financial analyst. “I missed my friends and my family; it was like I never left. I even questioned coming back on the plane ride back to the USA, and whether or not I made the right decision to come back at all.”

“When I landed back in the states, I was greeted with so much love from the friends I had made from the new life I created here, I knew I belonged here,” she said.

The story of the American immigrant is one that many may hear about from grandparents and great grandparents, but this is a story of today, of determination and resilience. Buzhak traveled from her birth place not to leave a war-ridden country or to escape poverty, but simply to see a different, better life and a new experience.

Her story is not unusual - a young woman coming to a new country with nothing but a few hundred dollars, a bag, and a bare grasp of the English language. At the age of 19, she came to create an entirely new life.

“I left Belarus after a few years of college, in 2007. I had spent two years working on my degree and was working three jobs paying my way through school. I came to a moment and I decided I wanted something different. I had always wanted to come to the United States,” said Buzhak.

As a young adult, Buzhak left home with her green card and a one-way ticket to New York City – the land of her dreams. Her parents were scared. As the youngest of three, she was the last to leave the nest - but this was her time.

“My first year here tested everything I knew; everything my parents raised me to be was challenged,” said Buzhak. “The beliefs my parents instilled in me as a child truly came to form within my first year, the importance of kindness, the ability to trust people and analyze your situation.”

“Sometimes it felt suffocating with the language barrier, culture difference, and isolation. However, I’ve become better for it; I learned to prioritize and focus. When you have nowhere to stay and no job to make money, you realize what’s important quickly, even as a young adult.”

Buzhak described Belarus as a very family-oriented country, and one which is very self-reliant.

“We depend on ourselves and our family, said Buzhak. “When I came to America, I had a severe culture shock, not just because of the language barrier, or because I had no place to live, but because I had to depend on strangers to make everything happen. I was depending on a friend of a friend to help me find a place to stay, a random stranger who speaks the same language to show me kindness and some type of familiarity in this completely different place. Through all of those trials I went through, I met some of the nicest people that I’m still friends with to this day.”

Although Buzhak created a new life in the United States, she still has all of her family back home.

“It was bittersweet going back to visit,” recalled Buzhak. “I was in a constant state of homesickness. Even after all these years I still miss my family but it’s a matter of acceptance. I’ve accepted that this is the life that I’ve chosen, this is the life that I want and I’m meant for.


Buzhak joined the fight in 2013 and she is currently serving her country at her second assignment as a member of Team Mildenhall.

“Growing up in Belarus, all the men are required to commit two years to the military. I listened to my father talk about all he had learned in that short amount of time, growing up, and the friends that he made,” she remarked. “ It made me wish I could do that. Being a female in the military was not a very common thing back home, it was slightly looked down upon. When I got to the states, I met a friend who ended up joining the Air Force and he was a huge influence on relighting that fire I had to serve.

“America has given me so much in the little time I’ve been here, and I wanted to give back, I wanted to serve. I'm able to give back a piece of what I’ve gotten from the military, I love what I do and where I’m stationed. Living in the United Kingdom, I’m even closer to my family, especially now with a family it was hard for me to come home. Now, it’s much more feasible for my family and me to visit my family. The Air Force has given me everything that I could have wanted. The United States has given me everything I could have dreamed of.”