Face of Defense: Airman Recounts Journey From War-Torn Lebanon to Air Force Service

July 10, 2018

Every airman has a story as to why they decided to serve and the journey that goes along with it.

Air Force Capt. Elie Elchartouni’s journey started under a much different set of circumstances than most, as he and his family waited 13 years to move to America from a country torn by a civil war.

“I am just one of thousands with an interesting journey,” said Elchartouni, the officer in charge of the 437th Maintenance Flight here. “Our Air Force is as diverse as it is powerful.”

Giving Back

Elchartouni speaks Arabic and French, and now often serves as a translator, but one of the biggest hurdles in his journey was learning English.

“I went to a school that taught in French, but at the age of 18, I began to learn English, which proved to be a challenge,” he said. “But I eventually learned it.”

Elchartouni and his family settled in California and he enrolled at San Jose State University, where he completed his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering.

“Shortly after I finished my degree, an opportunity in Silicon Valley came up, and before I knew it, I landed a job as an electrical engineer,” he said. “After four years with the company, and achieving a six-figure income, I realized how many opportunities I had received in the states and decided it was time to give back.”

Elchartouni decided joining the military would be a way to honor his adoptive country while still being able to work in his desired field and take on a new challenge.

“I walked into the recruiter’s office and told her I had a degree and the languages I spoke,” he said. “I asked, ‘Where do I sign? I’m ready to serve.’”

After commissioning through Officer Training School, he was stationed back in California, where he completed a master’s degree in engineering management at the University of California Los Angeles.

‘Knowledgeable Leader’

As the officer in charge of the 437th Maintenance flight, Elchartouni ensures that the 128-person maintenance flight schedules home station checks on aircraft, refurbishes and maintains important aircraft components and recovers crashed, disabled and damaged aircraft here and at Charleston International Airport.

“He is a very knowledgeable leader,” said Tony Ware, 437th Maintenance Flight assistant flight chief. “He genuinely cares for his team.”

According to Defense Department demographics, the percentage of minority service members has been rising since 1995. As the diversity of the country expands, so does the diversity of its military.

“I was slightly nervous joining the Air Force and being Middle-Eastern,” Elchartouni said. “On the contrary, my fellow airmen have been very inclusive.”

The expertise and diversity of airmen make America’s Air Force a global leader. Elchartouni exemplifies how airmen quickly integrate, influence and lead at all levels.

“I wear the uniform with pride,” he said. “I consider myself to be blessed with all of these opportunities. I never thought that I would be where I am today, but opportunities are everywhere in our nation. I am proud to call myself an American airman.”