By Sgt. Jarred WoodsSeptember 19, 2015
For the Paratroopers of Dog Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, currently serving in Panevezys, Lithuania; one Soldier in particular has selflessly employed his language skills to build a unique connection between service members.
Born and raised in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Pvt. Aidarbek Raev, a unit supply specialist with the 173rd, grew up speaking Russian, the second most spoken language in Lithuania. His journey to the U.S. and eventual enlistment into military service paints the scene.
"Honestly, it wasn't really planned," said Raev. "When you grow up in Kyrgyzstan, you're more orientated to Russia. I was going to go to the Russian economic academy in Moscow, but when I was in my eleventh-year my mother said, 'Do you want to go to the states for a couple years and learn the language?' I said, 'Why not? Let's give it a shot.'"
A mother's blessing might have been the final push for Raev, but a father's insistence on self-improvement and continued education remains a constant motivation.
"My dad was always saying, 'Go to better schools,'" said Raev. "When I was young, he took me out of public school to a private school, which was better for math and science.
Around my dinner table, there were always discussions about politics and economics."
"My dad thought the colleges were better in the state than in Kyrdyzstan, or in Russia," Raev added. "It was kind of always intended for me to go to better schools."
After resolving a few issues obtaining a visa, Raev ultimately made it to Texas to study economics, where he recalls his initial challenges.
"My English wasn't that good, so it took me about three months to get through the language barrier, and up to six months to be really confident speaking, writing and reading in it," Raev said. "The hardest part was being away from family and friends by myself at 17.
Following a couple semesters in Texas, Raev traveled to Philadelphia, Penn. to pursue a business degree and to be near his parents, who had moved there. During this time, Raev's father was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
"They gave him four months to live," said Raev. "During those four months, I spent every possible moment with my dad. We would go for walks and talk about life and my future."
"He said, 'I sent you here so you can be different and get a better education, but also so you can go back to Kyrgyzstan and make a difference. Would you go back to Kyrgyzstan?' I said, 'Dad, since I've moved to the states, I've changed. My perspectives about the world have changed. If I graduate, it's going to change even more. I'll give you an answer when I get my master's degree.'"
After his father's passing and a few more years of school, Raev's path would indeed continue to change. With Raev's student visa nearing its end, military service seemed a viable option.
"I was reading the New York Times, and one of the ads was about a 'path to U.S. citizenship through military service,'" Raev said. "I started reading about and researching it. I wasn't eligible at first. There wasn't a program for people with an international student visa to join the military. I either had to be a resident or a citizen."
However, with Raev being fluent in Russian, he was able to enlist in the U.S. Army due to Russian's strategic importance in the military.
Raev recalls his initial experiences going through basic training in Jan. 2014.
"I loved it," Raev said. "Even after six years of being in the states, it was my first time being exposed to American culture. Because college is one thing, but on a day-to-day basis, being side-by-side with other Americans, I learned that there's a lot of great people - good people who show that they want to be great."
During basic training, Raev's peers selected him to be a team leader. He continued to display leadership potential and was eventually promoted to squad leader toward the end of his training.
"I saw that in the military and in basic training, no matter where you come from, no matter your religion or ethnicity, if you have a skill and you're easy to work with, they're going to promote you," Raev added. "There were other guys who were better than me, but they saw something in me and they pulled me out front to be a leader - I respect that."
Following basic and advanced individual training, Raev attended the U.S. Army Airborne School and was eventually assigned to wear the infamous maroon beret with Dog Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Currently serving as the unit's supply sergeant, a duty position three tiers above his pay-grade, Raev exemplifies outstanding professionalism and discipline. These qualities haven't gone unnoticed by his leadership.
"Raev is absolutely invaluable to this company," said 1st Lt. Steven Siberski, a native of Clearwater, Fla., also a platoon leader with Dog Company. "His language and cultural knowledge, really bridges the gap between us and our host nation allies here. What he's able to do, as far as communicating and establishing relationships and a good working environment, has made Dog Company's stay here in Lithuania that much better."
"As far as establishing networks for our sustainment such as food, cleaning supplies, laundry and all the other basic essential things we would need to sustain ourselves here, Pvt. Raev has done a fantastic job facilitating our needs within the local community."
Military service has gained Raev his U.S. citizenship and opened new possibilities for the future, however uncertain that future may be.
"I think a lot of people in my position might consider going green to gold," said Raev. I already have my associates degree, and if I were to become an officer, they would help pay for my bachelors."
"I'm not sure if I want to stay past my four-year contract, because my family doesn't really understand why I have to be away all the time. Family is extremely important to me. Am I going to stay in and go green to gold? I don't know."
Although Raev may be unsure of his next step or what may come, others have no doubt as to his possibilities.
"I think his potential is limitless," added Siberski. "What he's doing right now, as a private, is incredibly impressive. With further progression and development, he could really accomplish anything he wants in the U.S. Army."