From: "Pedro Martori"
Subject: Woman joins Air Force after fleeing Cuba
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002 13:22:14 -0400
NNTP-Posting-Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002 13:26:51 EDT
Organization: Bell Sympatico
Asunto: Woman joins Air Force after fleeing Cuba
Fecha: Sunday, October 13, 2002 1:00 PM
October 11, 2002
Woman joins Air Force after fleeing Cuba
by Sue Campbell
59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
LACKLAND AFB, Texas -- Airman 1st Class Lizmailyn Llopis is a
management apprentice at the Kelly Family Medicine Clinic, where
release of health information. When you first meet her, you find
professional military member, a little shy, but friendly with a
Her outward appearance and demeanor show no sign of her troubled
experiences: living in and escaping from her home country.
At age 17, Llopis and her family were living in Cuba and dreamt
of a better
life in the United States.
"There is no freedom in Cuba," she said. "The communist
how far you are going to get in life. It doesn't matter how hard
you work or
how much you study."
In August 1994, Llopis and some family members attempted to leave
illegally. They set off in darkness one night in a small boat,
but a storm
forced them to return to Cuba immediately. Days after their
Cuban government eased restrictions regarding leaving the
"Castro was frustrated that the United States was accepting Cuban
and he put out a decree that it was no longer illegal to leave
explained. "He said anyone could leave the country if they
that America would not take us in now that it was legal to
Llopis' family decided to take their chances anyway. Her family
family --13 people in all -- set off again in their small boat
toward U.S. shores.
"About 30,000 Cubans all left the country at the same time," she
group was in a small motor boat, more like a raft, and our only
were sugar cubes, some water, and some canned meat that was too
After a few hours at sea, the boat's engine stalled and they
restart it. They floundered aimlessly for hours, facing 10- to
"We were seasick, very hungry and seriously sunburned," Llopis
Fortunately, a CBS news team was in the area filming the mass
Cubans and their ship miraculously happened upon the stranded
news team contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, who rescued the group
hours of misery at sea.
The Coast Guard transported the weathered group to Guantanamo Bay
Station, located on the southern tip of Cuba.
"We were placed in one of several refugee camps, along with many
were rescued," Llopis said. "There were thousands of us and we
initially told we'd all be sent back to Cuba."
She described the camps as similar to what prison life must be
"We lived in tents with no air conditioning," she said. "We
bathed out of a
bucket of water and ate prepackaged military rations with
rice and meat from time to time."
According to the airman, their military guards, who alternated
Marine, Army and Navy troops, were initially detached and tough,
understood their situation.
"There were so many of us, and we were all strangers to them,"
"Most of them were young kids, far away from their families, just
do their jobs."
Air Force personnel provided medical support to the refugees and
were set up for the children.
"I helped teach the first and second grade classes," said Llopis.
passed, the military troops relaxed a little, and I actually made
friends. I came to admire them and realized they were really
doing the best
they could to take care of us."
She recalled during a fierce storm, military members were running
in and out
of the tents making sure everyone was okay.
"I was amazed at their concern for us," she said. "They displayed
humanity in the face of possible danger to themselves."
She was so impressed with the military people she came to know
that she told
some of them someday she'd like to join
"They advised me that if I wanted a military career, the Air
really good educational opportunities and great consideration for
As the days and months passed, the U.S. government evaluated each
situation and began authorizing people to leave the camp and take
residence in Miami.
"I believe most of the refugees finally obtained permission to
live in the
U.S., except those with a criminal record," said Llopis. "My
allowed to stay because I was under 18 years of age. We finally
Miami after living in a refugee camp for eight months and 13
She arrived in Miami in May 1995, barely able to speak English.
the Air Force in September 2000 and was assigned to the 59th
Medical Wing in
Now 25 years old, she is working on getting her U.S. citizenship.
"President Bush authorized all military personnel to get their
early after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 last year," she
family are all living in Miami and working to obtain citizenship,
Inspired by the young troops she met years ago in austere
has found stability and contentment serving in the military and
looks to the
future with excitement.
"I love the Air Force and plan to make it a career," she said.
excellent care of us at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm proud to do my
part to pay
back my adopted country for the compassion and assistance we all
(Courtesy of AETCNS News Service)