MSGT pulls DOD-level award for meritorious service

by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

It started in 2005, when she created her own Asian Pacific American dance group at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. They performed in front of Air Force, federal and
sister-service audiences. From there it blossomed into her leading a more than 300-member strong Filipino-American group in the KMC.

This start and her dedication to community earned Master Sgt. Catherine Gaco-Escalera the Federal Asian Pacific American Council Military Meritorious Service Award May 12 in Bellevue, Wash.

“It was a proud moment for me,” said Sergeant Gaco-Escalera, 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron first sergeant. “I was the only active Air Force member at the event.”

Sergeant Gaco-Escalera’s mother and father were both born and raised in the Philippines, making her the first authentic Filipino-American in her lineage. Her father was in the Navy, which gave her the opportunity to gain citizenship when she was born in Oakland, Calif.

Winning the award, she said, was not only a proud moment for her, but represented so much more.

 “Winning this award meant a lot to me, and it meant a lot for diversity. Diversity is such a big part of (the Air Force’s) culture. I was very fortunate to have people around that supported me through my efforts. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Sergeant Gaco-Escalera said.

One such person is Maj. Tim Deater, Sergeant Gaco-Escalera’s current supervisor of two years and 86th AES Operations Support flight commander.

“To say she was deserving would be an understatement,” Major Deater said. “Her dedication to those things important to her is amazing. Among all the things she has to do as a first sergeant, mother, wife, (Filipino-American Association) president and enabler, she finds a way to make it all happen, and does it exceptionally well — even with a deployment.”

Among the many things this mother of three children has accomplished is raising more than $23,000. The “Fil-Am” Association donated portions of the money raised to the Fisher House, Philippine flood victims and the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.

“It felt great being able to make those donations knowing that our hard work has paid off by helping people that have been devastated by natural disasters,” she said. “It’s knowing that you’ve made a difference in the world, and it’s a great feeling.”

In addition to her generosity toward organizations, she also served traditional Filipino meals to more than 150 wounded warriors in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Sergeant Gaco-Escalera was recently re-elected as president of the “Fil-Am” Association here for another year, and she said she was ecstatic for the additional opportunity.

“It’s definitely a lot of work and responsibility, but we have great teamwork. The members of ‘Fil-Am’ Association of KMC are an amazing group of talented and hard-working people that work so well together. Serving with people that love to serve others makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

For more information on the “Fil-Am” Association here, visit and search for “Fil-Am of KMC.”