How a Filipino from Capiz became top foreign cadet
MANILA, Philippines – Even as a child, Capiz native Kennon Jan Aguilar knew he was going to serve in the Philippine Army.
He came from a line of military men. His father served in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and his grandfather was in the Philippine Constabulary.
So when time came for him to choose a career, he joined the Philippine Military Academy without hesitation.
Aguilar's talent and passion for military service was eminent. In 2013, he was among the few chosen in his class to join the Foreign Service Academy Program, where promising students are sent to different military schools abroad.
The screening process was hard, Aguilar said. Only the top 50 of each class were picked for the initial screening. These 50 cadets then took another set of examinations that tested not only their academic proficiency, but also their physical and practical capabilities.
Aguilar was one of 5 cadets chosen to be sent to different military schools in South Korea. Their goal was simple: represent the country well, learn another culture, and be the best cadet they can be.
Studying in South Korea
Unlike the PMA's tri-service curriculum, aspiring cadets in Korea already have to choose among different military schools specialized for the training of soldiers for the army, air force, or navy. Aguilar joined the Korea Air Force Academy.
It's no secret that studying in a military school, no matter what country, is difficult. But it's even harder for foreign students like Aguilar who have to deal with the language barrier.
The whole curriculum was in Korean, and very few spoke English in their class. Aguilar had to spend almost a year studying the language at the Korean Defense Language Institute before starting his courses in military science and systems engineering.
Good thing Aguilar was able to adapt quickly, and even made friends with his Korean schoolmates. He said adaptability, after all, is a trait Filipinos are known for.
Then of course, there's the tough military grind. Military education puts great emphasis on discipline and hardwork, so Aguilar and his classmates' schedules are packed with activities designed to train them holistically as soldiers.
His days start early in the morning with a road run, and their classes begin by 8 am. By 4 pm, they dedicate a whole hour for athletics and club activities. They then have to study again from 7 to 9 pm.
Alone and surrounded by foreigners, homesickness would kick in every now and then. Often, Aguilar would miss his family back home and long for conversations in Filipino.
At times like this, Aguilar was glad there are many other kababayans (countrymen) living and working in South Korea. On his free days and during holidays, he spent time with Filipinos who welcomed him to their homes.
"Nakatulong sila ma-ease yung homesickness ko. Nakaka-miss naman po talagang magsalita in your own langauage, at makipagbiruan kasama ang ibang mga Pinoy," he said. (They helped ease my homesickness. I missed speaking our own language, making jokes with fellow Filipinos.)
It didn't take long for Aguilar to shine in his new school again.
On his third year, he was given the Honorable Cadet Award for his good character. He also represented his school for a student research competition, where he won second best presentation, beating 20 other presenters from different schools in South Korea. His thesis proposed a solution for Metro Manila's traffic problem using intelligent transport systems.
By March this year, Aguilar graduated from the academy and was awarded as their class' top foreign cadet. Among the 142 graduates, he was also one of 5 cadets named as most outstanding cadet officers. Aguilar was the only foreigner to receive this award.
It was an amazing feat. Aguilar, after all, just graduated with flying colors from one of the military schools of South Korea, a country known for its superior military strength.
How did he do it? Countless sleepless nights, and the thought that he's representing the country.
"You need to prove yourself, because you're a visitor. You need to perform much better, dahil pinadala ka ng ibang bansa (because they sent you to another country)," he said.
Serving the country
Now that his stint in South Korea is over, Aguilar is back to serve the Philippines again – this time, as a regular officer for the Philippine Air Force.
He brings with him the knowledge and technical expertise he learned studying in South Korea, where a dozen of our own fighter jets came from.
"In the Philippines, in PMA, we're not allowed to fly until after graduation. But here, we already have experience flying while we're still cadets. So upon graduation, we already have basic knowledge on flying," Aguilar explained when asked about the major difference between studying here in the Philippines and South Korea,
On deciding where to go next, Aguilar follows one guiding principle: "Think of all the ways, the things that you can impart to the institution, instead of your own career."
It's something he learned from his father, who showed him there is no greater honor than to live a life of service to the country. – Rappler.com