Civil Air Patrol recognizes Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a profile of 1st Lt. Angelica-Lorraine Lee of the California Wing.
Imagine growing up in the Philippines, half-Filipino and half-Chinese, and then leaving home at 18 for an entirely new culture in the U.S. with the intent of chasing childhood dreams.
Angelica-Lorraine Lee, a first lieutenant in Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing, doesn't have to imagine that scenario.
Instead, it’s her life.
And even today, at 29, she’s planning yet another big move that will include another culture change, though not as dramatic as the first one.
She and her fiancé, German native Wolfgang Wagenknecht, live in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. They’re preparing, though, to move across the country to Hallandale Beach, Florida, to start their own tech company.
Through more changes than most people experience during a full lifetime, Lee has found a constant in CAP, an organization she discovered not long after landing in California.
“Civil Air Patrol has been extremely accommodating to me on all levels,” Lee said. “It was the first place I truly felt at home.”
She discovered CAP not long after arriving in California on May 2, 2010, three days after her 18th birthday. She lived with one of her mother’s sisters in Pacifica for two years.
Lee already dreamed of becoming a pilot and working for NASA. Seeing a U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration at an air show in San Francisco made her want to fly that much more.
Then, on a visit to a NASA exhibit at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, she picked up a Civil Air Patrol brochure.
“It reminded me of the Girl Scouts,” Lee joked, but she quickly realized CAP was a much more in-depth program.
She had grown up in a multicultural environment – one not necessarily conducive to a young girl’s dreams of a life steeped in the sciences coupled with a commitment to helping people through science.
Lee’s parents came with her to the U.S. Her dad stayed until that June and her mother remained with Lee until November, when she returned to Manila. Her father encouraged her goals, but her mother wasn’t pleased with the idea of a career in science for her daughter.
“This is a man’s world” is what her mother told her when she was growing up.
Lee remained committed, however, to pursuing her dreams. She joined San Francisco Cadet Squadron 86 in February 2011 and remained until October 2012, gaining recognition as Cadet of the Year for 2011. She graduated in 2012 from CAP’s Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Familiarization Course at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
She has served in Jon E. Kramer Composite Squadron 10 in Palo Alto the last 8½ years, filling the roles of public affairs officer and assistant aerospace education officer from October 2012-May 2017 and deputy commander of cadets from March 2015-May 2017. She was recognized as California Wing Cadet Programs Officer of the Year for 2015.
While she thrived as a California Wing member, Lee was finding school difficult, especially math – a real concern since she wanted a career in physics and astronomy. She bounced around from one community college to another before testing revealed she suffered from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. or ADHD, which explained her struggles in school while growing up.
Lee’s CAP training taught her to be flexible, which led to changing her approach to academics and earning a degree in physics with a concentration in astronomy from San Jose State University in 2018. Her grades had improved so much she was selected for membership in the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society.
In college Lee got the opportunity to attend a physics congress, PhysCon, in 2016, where she presented an astronomy poster on a new type of galaxy. At the conference, she met her “future mentor of her first job,” who saw her potential.
“We just clicked,” she said.
The following week, she got an email asking if she wanted to work for him as a contractor at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Lee wanted to finish her degree, so they compromised, and she as an intern for a summer.
That internship got her one step closer to the goal she coveted — NASA. Her job with the institute that summer concerned the prediction of lightning strikes, with the goal of maintaining space launch schedules, improving personnel safety and saving money. Her work was in conjunction with Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“That was a very fulfilling time for me,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, Lee’s dreams from childhood remain the same. In April she wrote a personal narrative about her life so far, marking her 10th year in Civil Air Patrol. At one point in her cadet training , she said, she felt as though she were holding a compass on Mars, gazing down at the spinning needle.
But now as she prepares to transition to the next phase of her life, Lee sees something different. She has learned to adapt and adjust to life’s challenges, an especially valuable capacity considering the unusual life she has led. She has come a long way from those early days when she felt like she had landed on Mars with a useless compass.
“I gaze down at my hands,” she wrote, “a gyroscope and an accelerometer now guide me towards my goals, where there once was a compass’ spinning needle.”