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Air Force Academy cadet celebrates Hispanic Heritage

Cadet 2nd Class Monique Burgess

Cadet 2nd Class Patricia Nieves Rosich poses for a photo on the airfield at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Nieves Rosich was born in Puerto Rico and said she's proud to celebrate her Hispanic Heritage and the opportunities she's been given to excel as an Academy cadet. (U.S. Air Force Academy photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- My life changed forever when my family moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in January 2012. My parents wanted to give me a better education and more opportunities to play basketball. They knew basketball was an important part of my life, and that I would most likely not get recruited to a college team while living in Puerto Rico. My best opportunity was to move to the U.S. and play basketball during high school.

As our plane left San Juan, I thought about the life I was leaving behind. I’d lived in Puerto Rico for 14 years. I was leaving a place I was familiar and comfortable with, and about to enter a new culture and way of life.

Our first U.S. destination was Haines City, Florida. I attended Haines City High School and began the second semester of my freshman year without knowing English. Not only did this make it difficult to communicate with people, it required me to work extra hard in school. Before testing to be enrolled English second-language classes, the teacher showed me an image and asked, “Which corner has the blue car?” I had no response because I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. This didn’t stop me from getting a 3.6 GPA or being an honor roll student during those first months in the U.S. I worked tirelessly to communicate with others and immersed myself in the English language.

After I finished a semester at Haines City High School, I was recruited to play basketball at Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Florida. My family lived in Haines City while I was a boarding student. I thrived at FAA. I made amazing friends and competed against top schools in the region, which really improved my abilities. During my sophomore year, I got a surprise visit from a recruiter for the Air Force Academy women’s basketball team. That day, I gave my all in practice. The recruiter talked to me about the Academy and the opportunities it could present to me. I hadn’t put much thought into where I wanted to go to college, but after being in Junior ROTC for three years, I wanted to join the military. With the opportunity to play basketball at a D1 level, getting a college education and joining the Air Force upon graduation, the Academy was the perfect fit.

I started applying to the Academy during my junior year of high school, but my SAT score was too low to get accepted, regardless of recruitment. I took the SAT a second time, but my score was still too low. I enrolled in tutoring for two months to work on my vocabulary and testing skills. I took the SAT four more times before scoring high enough to apply for to be admitted to the Academy and was accepted into the Academy Preparatory School. Though I was not going directly to the Academy, I was blessed to be accepted into the prep school and start my Air Force journey.

It’s been six years since I moved to the U.S., and what a journey it has been. Basketball gave me many opportunities. I made the Basketball National Team of Puerto Rico for the first time when I was 13 years old, and earned a slot on the team’s roster when I was 14 and 15.  Basketball allowed me to represent my nationality in places like Mexico and El Salvador, to graduate from a great high school, and become an Air Force Academy cadet. The sport opened many doors for me and I have been able to show my tenacity and drive to excel in school while playing the sport I love. As a junior cadet, I major in civil engineering with a minor in Spanish. I’m the captain of the Women’s Club Basketball Team and a cadet flight non-commissioned officer where I have the opportunity to develop cadets -- the future officers who will lead our Air Force. The Academy has developed me in ways that I never could have imagined. My family’s decision to leave Puerto Rico for better opportunities has paid off, but I will always let my identity be shown to those around me.  I never forget where I came from.