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One Airman’s Journey to the USAF

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

(Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a three-part series on diversity)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – At the age of 5 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, she told her family she would live abroad. She focused on making that dream a reality and did just that in March 2011.

“I wanted to live abroad ever since I was very young,” said Airman 1st Class Cristine Barcellos Toffano, 60th Comptroller Squadron budget analyst. “I wanted to see the world and told my parents that I would. I had the opportunity to go to Canada for about 40 days to study English in Quebec. I really enjoyed that experience. It was a challenge.”

While studying in Canada, Barcellos Toffano, who also speaks Portuguese and understands Spanish, traveled to New York City with friends. The visit to one of America’s biggest cities was a thrilling experience, she said.

“It’s hard to explain, but I felt like this is where I want to live,” she said. “I was amazed after visiting New York. All the lights, the structures, movement of people and the quality of life.”

Those 40 days in Canada quickly flew by and the young scholar found herself back in Brazil researching how she could live and work in the United States. She said she saved approximately $40,000 before deciding to make the move, a decision she said was the best of her life.

“Here you have so many opportunities, if you work hard,” said Barcellos Toffano. “In Brazil, you may not see the money you’ve earned for all that hard work. It can be very dangerous. While the country is beautiful and there’s much to do, the country doesn’t have good schools, security and lacks good hospitals.”

“In the U.S. there’s more opportunity, greater security and good schools," she said. "I feel like (in the United States) no matter what you do, you can still manage to have a decent life."

Barcellos Toffano traveled to the United States in March 2011 and settled in Mountain View, California. She studied business administration at Foothill College and worked in the marketing field.

After living in California for five years Barcellos Toffano said, she wanted to challenge herself. This led to her joining the U.S. Air Force in September 2016.

“I love challenging myself, it makes me grow,” she said. “I once biked from Mountain View to Sausilito, California [49 miles] just to do it. Just for the challenge. I feel like if you don’t challenge yourself or ever step out of your comfort zone, you’ll be stuck in the same spot. I want to travel, learn and experience life. I’m hoping the Air Force sends me overseas soon to challenge me even more.”

The bright-eyed Airman graduated basic military training as an honor graduate in November 2016. She then completed the Financial Management and Comptroller Apprentice Course at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, in February and arrived here March 3.

As a budget analyst in the 60th CPTS, she helps provide financial services to 12,000 Airmen across three wings and manage a budget in excess of $300 million. While she’s only been at Travis for three months, Barcellos Toffano is having quite an impact on the mission.

“She’s been fantastic,” said Capt. Garrett Custons, 60th CPTS financial management analysis flight commander. “She’s picking up financial management at an extremely fast pace and more importantly, she’s engaged with the team and hungry for knowledge.”

“It’s great to have new Airmen come in and ask questions about why we do things the way we do, which is exactly what she’s been doing,” said Custons. “It’s forcing us to re-look at a lot of processes we’ve been doing a certain way for a long time without having a good reason except for, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done.’”

The Air Force announced 13 new initiatives in September 2016 focused on enhancing diversity across the service.

"Recruiting and retaining diverse Airmen cultivates innovation,” said Gen. David Golfein, Air Force Chief of Staff. “Like different aircraft and missions make up one Air Tasking Order, different people make the best teams when integrated purposefully together."

"The men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force are representative of the diversity of our nation,” said former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, James Cody
. “We value this diversity and it's one of our greatest strengths; our Airmen come together to produce an incredible team that can accomplish any mission and overcome any challenge. The uniqueness of these Airmen and the ability to leverage this uniqueness over time will ensure we remain the world's greatest Air Force."

The 60th CPTS has the opportunity to benefit from diversity daily as Airmen from seven countries including Barbados and China can be found working in the squadron.

“By seeking out people from diverse backgrounds you can increase your knowledge on a particular topic by hearing different points of view,” said Barcellos Toffano.

Organizations that lack diversity may end up analyzing processes and solving problems the same way, which could limit options, she said. Diversity is important because it brings so much value into an organization.  

Custons agrees with Barcellos Toffano.

“Having this diverse team with different backgrounds helps to avoid the dangers of group think,” he said. “Several times already, our young Airmen have made comments about the second and third order effects of some potential decisions that we had not taken into account, preventing inefficiencies.” 

Recently, Barcellos Toffano shared some ideas on ways to encourage Airmen to use the Airmen Against Drunk Driving program, an all-volunteer force designed to give Airmen free rides home and prevent driving under the influence incidents. She’s even helping Travis develop a survey for the program.

“Travis has had a problem recently with so many Airmen getting DUIs, so I’m helping develop a survey to find out why Airmen don’t take advantage of AADD more,” said Barcellos Toffano. “I reviewed the questions for the survey and came up with the idea of including in-depth information in the questions, allowing for better responses.”

The survey features about a dozen questions seeking feedback from Airmen about the AADD program.

“With the survey, we want to identify potential shortfalls that may exist with the program,” said Maj. Geoff Cargill, 60th Air Mobility Wing deputy director of staff. “We then want to use that information to increase awareness for the program, enhance marketing and help our Airmen who may be in bad situations make good decisions.”

Barcellos Toffano said, at the end of the day, she just wants to help others.

“I want to make a difference in people’s lives and help the people in my community,” she said. “The U.S. has treated me so well and has given me so many opportunities, so I want to give back. Serving in the Air Force is a way for me to do that.”