2nd Lieutenant Jesson Peñaflor (rightmost, front row) together with his colleagues in the United States Military Academy at West Point. Image: courtesy of Jesson Peñaflor/Facebook
A Filipino cadet from northern Mindanao has earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point last Saturday.
Jesson Cawaing Peñaflor, a 24-year-old Bukidnon native, was among the 1,107 members of the US Military Academy’s Class of 2020 who marched on the parade field of the academy during their graduation last June 13.
Unlike the usual graduation rites, what must be a special day for the corps of cadets turned into a program with no guests present in the venue to cheer for them due to the ongoing virus threat. Instead, their families and friends just cheered while watching the ceremony via live stream.
Tight security was also observed during the program as US President Donald Trump joined the ceremony and delivered the commencement address.
Their graduation ceremony was originally scheduled on May 23, but was moved to a later date due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was then replaced with the commissioning ceremony, which was also held online.
Last May 23, Peñaflor, together with the other graduating seniors, were commissioned as second lieutenants after four years at “the preeminent leader development institution” in New York.
Studying at West Point
Before West Point, Jesson Peñaflor joined the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 2015 where he had his plebe year.
After finishing his plebe year, he was the only one from his batch who got an opportunity to join the USMA when he was chosen for the Foreign Service Academy (FSA) program.
The FSA program is offered by the PMA in partnership with our allied nations such as the United States, Japan and Korea. Admission requirements differ by country.
“Upon entering the PMA and fulfilling certain criteria, one can be selected for the FSA program, [and will be] sent to the United States, Korea, Australia, etc. to attend in their own military academies,” Peñaflor told INQUIRER.net, adding, “Every cadet sent to foreign academies is required to at least finish the first two months or beast barracks in the PMA.”
As one of the US cadets, Peñaflor got stipends and free tuition, uniforms, accommodations and flight tickets. He started schooling at the USMA in June 2016.
During his first year of study, he and other similar cadets underwent general education, which consists of basic courses. On their second year, they had to choose among the 31 offered courses, and Peñaflor decided to take a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering.
Heart for the military
When he was a kid, Peñaflor lived in Agusan del Norte for four years where he studied from Grades 1 to 4, and went back to Kalilangan, Bukidnon, where he spent the rest of his elementary and secondary education.
His father is a retired staff sergeant of the Philippine Army, while his mother is a housewife. As a kid, Jesson aspired to be like his father. He is the eldest among three siblings. His sister is currently in college, while his younger brother is in high school.
“I had a lot of motivation [to accomplish this milestone], but the greatest would be God, honor, and family. I am a Christian, so I believe that all I accomplished are God’s blessings,” shared Peñaflor.
“I wanted to be in the military because it was an honorable and noble profession. What I accomplished are all additions to my desire to serve,” he added. Above all, Peñaflor said, “I want to make my family proud.”
When it comes to the challenges that he had faced, Peñaflor recounted that one of his biggest struggles was loneliness: “Being away from family and friends, OFW’s could confirm this, there are times that you just feel lonely. You miss your family and friends.”
On the bright side, Peñaflor was grateful that he had met a lot of wonderful people during his entire stay in the US as he gained foster families who adopted him into their homes, including the Filipino community in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Moreover, the PMA Alumni Association–North-East Group has also reached out to him and helped him in any way they could.
“Without these people, my journey would have been lonely,” he said.
Serving his homeland
Wherever he goes, Peñaflor carries with him the words a mentor once told him: “Think of what you can do in the future but focus on what you can do today.”
“As of now, I am still young, and [I am] at the dawn of my career. As a member of the military, the things that I can do for the country are still limited by my position and status. For now, what I could do is be an inspiration [to] the youth to serve our country in any way that they can, may it be in the military or the other sectors of our society,” Peñaflor said.
Now that he has finished his stint in the US Army, Peñaflor will be heading back to the Philippines this month-–this time, he looks forward to either branching into infantry and joining the country’s First Scout Rangers Regiment (FSSR) also known as the “Scout Rangers,” or the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) unit of the Philippine Army.
Meanwhile, for those who aspire to join the military, Peñaflor shared the generally known piece of advice, “Rest if you must, but don’t quit!” /ra