"American parents want to know: How do two kids from [the former] Yugoslavia become generals in the Air Force?"

It was tThe question, posed to Gen. Frank Gorenc , commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, on Tuesday by Time Magazine reporter Mark Thompson during a roundtable with reporters Tuesday in Washington, D.C., led the commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, on ​. His summarized answer took reporters, sitting by him during a breakfast in Washington, D.C., into a candid story about the practical reasons he joined the Air Force. 

Gorenc pinned on his fourth star in 2013, the same year he began overseeing U.S. Air Force missions, robust exercises and partnerships on covering the two continents, at times covering stretching globally as far as 19 million square miles. Since then, he has made it his duty to reassure allies, and U.S. service members alike, that, despite Russian aggression in Europe and a volatile situation in many parts of Africa, the U.S.is committed to dealing with anything that comes its way.  

Gorenc, and his brother, retired Maj. Gen. Stanley Gorenc, were born in Ljubljana, now Slovenia, in the 1950s. The brothers immigrated with their parents to the United States in the 1960s when they were 8 and 4, according to the Air Force. Rep. Clement John Zablocki, D-Wisconsin, who sponsored officiated Gorenc's application to the Air Force Academy in 1975, was the same congressman who happened to sponsor the Gorenc family in the U.S., the general said.   

Here's what else Gorenc had to say about his experience, and how others like him might strengthen the military:

"I am an immigrant in the country. My parents immigrated in 1961, and we became citizens in 1973. My brother graduated from the Air Force Academy in '75, I graduated in '79. I have to say that I think it reflects that serving in the military is equal opportunity. I think that the military is a place where people like me, and my brother in this case, can thrive, and it's performance based. ... I'm also grateful, to be perfectly honest, that the congressman who nominated me to go to the Air Force Academy went through a very thorough process, and it wasn't all test based. Quite honestly, I'm not a good test taker, but I always tell this story about me marching down to my local congressman's office for an hour-long interview at the age of 16. And there's a housewife, a priest and a local businessman for an hour asking me why I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy.That was the fundamental part of his nomination process. And I'll tell you, based on the SAT test that I took, which I had to take three times just to get 10 points above the min[imum] to get in, I was very grateful for that opportunity. So he used a civil service exam. He gave me ... and my brother an opportunity to come into this great Air Force ... which is a very results-based, performance-based evaluation kind of organization. And that's how it happened, simply put. I didn't join for patriotism. I mean, on the rung of the social system, we [my family] were lower-middle class at best. I went there because it was free."  

Q. Why the Air Force, for the two brothers?

A. "I think that the mission, the airplanes, intrigued me, and by the way, this is another story I tell. When I was growing up, my dad used to drag [my brother and I] to the airshows, and we used to go watch the Thunderbirds. I grew up in the time that the Thunderbirds were the F-4s, and the number four airplane had a black tail because they couldn't keep it clean. ... And so we were drawn to the Air Force by the public displays of the military and the people that represented the military. ... In the end it was about the Air Force. And my brother led the way. My brother was four years in front of me, and so I'm a four-star because he was there four years ahead, mentoring me. He made it to two-star ... and gave me some knowledge and insight. But the only reason I tell these stories is ... my goal is to reach out to as many of the people and to introduce them to what the military is, and what the opportunities are. ... I'm an absolute beneficiary of the military being out there at airshows, about demonstrating to the American people exactly what we're buying in the people who are operating, that inspired me to get to that point where I went to a congressman who didn't just use the highest SAT score as a cutoff ... he learned who I was and what I wanted to do, and I'm very grateful for that. ... That's why our message to our airmen, active, Guard, Reserve, civilian is to recognize the opportunities that we have inside of our Air Force. And the only limitation of where you want to end up is yourself."  

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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