News Search

AAPIHM Spotlight: Senior Airman Annette Herbert

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

It would likely be difficult to find someone who had a childhood quite like Senior Airman Annette Herbert, an Active Guard Reserve personnelist working as commander’s support staff for the 419th Mission Support Group and this week’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month spotlight. 

Herbert was born on the Nukuoro Atoll Island, which is geographically located in the Federated States of Micronesia. She spent the first six years of her life on the island, raised by her mother, who is of Melanesian and Japanese descent and voyaged with her grandmother to Nukuoro Atoll as a young girl, and her father, who is of full Polynesian descent and born on Nukuoro Atoll.

Island life was challenging yet enriching, with a population of just 1,100 people working together to provide all the necessities of life. There was no plumbing on the island and only the occasional electricity from generators. There were no grocery stores and all their food was either caught, raised or grown. Herbert said technology was rare. She remembers being on an outrigger with her grandmother and being in awe upon seeing an airplane for the first time.

“It was fascinating,” she said. “It was during Operation Christmas Drop where airplanes from Anderson Air Force Base would drop supplies for the people on our islands.  It was a really neat experience I got to share with my grandma that I’ll never forget.”

Island life came to an end when Herbert was six years old. Her father wanted to integrate them into American culture and he moved her family to Maryland where he would become a Baptist pastor. She remembers being sad to leave the islands but excited for a new adventure. She was still learning English and it was a culture shock. 

“My mother had to learn English herself at 17 years old, homeschool us and be our translator when we struggled in school no matter where we traveled to,” she said. “I became fluent in English at 9 years old as my secondary language.”

Two years later they moved to Guam, where there was a good mix of island life and Americanization. In 1998, she moved to Utah and later joined the Air Force.

Herbert said due to an agreement with the United States and FSM government under Compact of Free Association, many FSM islanders are able to move anywhere in the United States for education and employment. Many leave the islands for these opportunities, then migrate back to their home islands later in life to pass on the knowledge and experience they’ve gained to younger generations. While she may never move back permanently, she is preparing to take her family to Nukuoro in 2024.

“I haven’t been back since I was 11 years old,” she said. “I’m really excited to share my culture with my husband and three children.”

Herbert said she joined the Air Force as a way to say thank you for the protections the military provides the Atoll Islands.

“It’s a way for me to give back and say thank you to our ‘big brother, big sister’ who give us those protections from being invaded,” she said. “I also wanted to be an example to my daughters and to everyone on my home islands that females can serve too and make a difference.”

Herbert is grateful for this month’s heritage celebration and hopes that the small Asian American and Pacific Islander demographic at Hill does a good job in sharing its culture so others can recognize the positive impact and influence they have made.