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Storytellers: The grass is greener

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Michelle Mras sings part of “America the Beautiful” during her presentation during the Storytellers event held at The Club on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 2, 2016. Mras shared how her experiences growing up in a military family in the Philippines and as a military spouse fueled her love for America and its armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Meade)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Michelle Mras sings part of “America the Beautiful” during her presentation during the Storytellers event held at The Club on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 2, 2016. Mras shared how her experiences growing up in a military family in the Philippines and as a military spouse fueled her love for America and its armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Meade)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Michelle Mras grew up in a military family and married into one. She is a motivational speaker and success coach, as well as an author. But over the years she hasn’t put her speaking and military lives together until now.

Mras shared a story from her military life as part of the Storytellers event held Nov. 2 at the Peterson Club. She was one of five Airmen, Soldiers and civilians who shared inspirational stories from their lives in front of a live audience.

Mras grew up in the Philippines, the daughter of an Air Force technical sergeant father and Filipina mother. She spent her childhood watching films and seeing pictures from America, all of which combined to achieve one thing in her mind: a desire to come to the United States.

She told about her fierce patriotism and devotion to America. When she was a child television stations would sign off each night by playing the National Anthem and Mras said she would stand straight and tall, as only a child can, hand over her heart and sing along.

Her story offered comparisons to her life living on Clark Air Base, Philippines and experiences visiting her Filipino family off base. In town things were somewhat chaotic with crowded streets and marketplaces, noisy traffic and the aroma of cooking food coming from restaurants and street vendors. It was a third-world nation to the fullest degree: people were poor, scraping out a living from few resources and everything seemed dusty, dirty and dingy.

But on Clark AB, Mras found her little slice of America.

“It was the greener side of the fence,” Mras said. “I thought it was like America.”

The well-kept lawns, the structure and the cleanliness of base living made a distinct impression on Mras. The contrast between on and off base living was dramatic and only served to bolster her opinion about what America must be like. Everything was green on the base side of the fence. Soon she would get the chance to compare her thoughts with reality.

Things in the Philippines started breaking down politically and when she was about seven years old, her father decided her mother and five siblings would be safer in America. Finally, Mras said, she would get to fulfill her dream of coming to the place of her imagination.

Her initial impression of her new home in New Orleans didn’t match the idyllic daydreams.

“There was concrete everywhere,” said Mras. “I thought everything in America was green.”

After undergoing culture shock for a time, her family returned to Clark AB. Even though the U.S. was different than she imagined, being an American was a point of intense pride for Mras. It was around this time when she had an epiphany of sorts.

“I realized I was part of the mission, too,” she said. “We sacrificed as a military family so my father and his friends could protect people.”

Military families are the melting pots of the world, she said, working together for one mission: to keep America free.

“My message is be proud to put the uniform on,” Mras said. “You are protecting the right of people to complain they have no pretty shoes, when they very well could have no feet.”

She wanted to use her story of patriotism and a lifetime as a military family member, to inspire others. Her point was to tell the audience and her fellow storytellers they have a choice. No matter what the circumstances of life, a person can choose how they respond to them.

“I wanted to tell them that no matter what, or where you come from, it can be better,” she said.

One way that people can make things better, for themselves and others, is by serving in the military, said Mras. The U.S. Military preserved all of her dreams, even if the first ones were not what she had hoped.

“You are an ocean of green,” she said. “The green on the other side of the fence I’ve been looking for. Be proud.”
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