ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
When one says “winning the lottery,” it could be defined in various ways. For some, it means winning a monetary prize. Others use the phrase to describe being lucky. For Ioan Gaitan, winning the lottery meant receiving his ticket to America. Little did he know, he would later find himself traveling back to Romania to use both his English and Romanian language skills to bring both countries together.
Gaitan, a Romanian citizen, entered the U.S Department of State’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program nine years ago. The program, more commonly known as the visa lottery, is one where a small number of applicants are selected to come to America with a visa.
Gaitan’s number was picked in 2007, and he was informed that he would be going to America. For him, it was a dream come true.
"This has always been my dream since I've been a kid," said Gaitan. "I remember scribbling the United States’ flag on my desk."
Gaitan’s patriotism shone through once he got to America. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and left for Basic Military Training only six weeks after arriving in America.
Gaitan’s career began in civil engineering in what would be a stellar nine-year enlisted career. During this time, he earned his degree in computer engineering.
In 2016, Gaitan was selected for Officer Training School and after nine weeks of training, he commissioned.
Now a 2nd Lt., Gaitan is the materiel management flight commander assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
Being from Romania, Gaitan’s native tongue is Romanian and he was determined to use his language to help the Air Force so he joined the Language Enabled Airman Program. The LEAP is a program that allows Airmen who are fluent speakers in another language to be part of a program that involves special assignments where their language supports an Air Force mission.
In 2017, Gaitan was selected to go back to Romania as an augmentee member of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency investigation team. He served as a translator.
DPAA’s mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting of U.S. personnel who are unaccounted for from past conflicts. Currently, there are 82,315 Americans still missing from conflicts dating back to World War II.
“Gaitan was selected from a field of 15 highly-qualified United States Air Force translators,” said Christine T. Cohn, DPAA historian. “His application revealed a breadth and depth of linguistic expertise that was far above all other candidates.”
As a translator, Gaitan had face–to-face conversations with Romanian natives from World War II and translated official documents that would go to the Romanian Ministry of National Defense.
“Gaitan also acted as the team’s cultural advisor,” said Cohn. “This led to a more successful mission in- country. Equally important, his Romanian cultural, societal and political knowledge enhanced and refined the DPAA’s work in Romania.”
Gaitan’s work in Romania ended with the first-ever Memorandum of Understanding between Romania and the DPAA. The MoU will help with future investigations for the DPAA.
Gaitan also worked with a specific WWII era witness who had seen an American bomber crash. The witness’ testimony contradicted what was on record, leading to a new search location where material evidence was found. He also met with city officials to determine how to investigate the crash site further.
Although Gaitan returned to Altus after the initial investigation, he is scheduled to return to his homeland once more to further investigate whether or not an excavation of the area is warranted.
Gaitan’s story shows the Air Force’s reach. Using the opportunities given by both the government and the Air Force, Gaitan was able to give back to both his new country and his homeland.
“I came here to live the American dream,” said Gaitan. “This is the epitome of living the American dream.”