COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Chua placed his personal U.S. Space Force patch on his son’s uniform, it was a moment of pride and humility for them both. Chua, a seasoned Airman and now Guardian, was witnessing his son follow in his footsteps. It was a moment of deep significance as the torch of service and sacrifice was passed down from one generation to the next.
This touching scene played out on April 25 as the father and son duo gathered on stage for the Guardian Recognition and Patching Ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, prior to Spc. 3 Anthony “AJ” Chua’s graduation from U.S. Space Force basic military training.
The moment itself was symbolic and historic in its own right. It represented a distinct chapter in the U.S. Space Force’s story.
But this is more than a U.S. Space Force story. This is a story about a father and son, their love for country, and call to service.
A Father’s Journey
Born and raised in a small province in the Philippines, Chua said he comes from “humble beginnings.” As a child, he never thought he would get the opportunity to live in the United States, let alone become a U.S. citizen. He was “content and happy” living in his home country, where he thought he would take over his father’s job someday and grow old with a family of his own.
However, as Chua grew up, he found inspiration in the movie “Top Gun” and became passionate about airplanes, even aspiring to become a pilot.
“Who doesn’t want to be Tom Cruise?” Chua laughed.
When Chua moved to the United States, he thought about joining the military to fulfill his dream. But as a Filipino tradition, Chua had to ask permission and approval from his parents, and his father was not initially supportive of the idea.
“He had a traditional view of the military,” Chua said, “he associated it with being on the front lines and fighting with rifles.”
Despite initial resistance from his father, Chua knew that there were many different specialties in the military.
On June 10, 2003, Chua said he “partially achieved his dream” by joining the enlisted Airman ranks as an avionics specialist for C-130 gunships. Although it was not his dream of being a pilot, he said it was as close as he could get to being around airplanes.
After five years as an avionics specialist, Chua said he was thinking of ways to advance his career and met some friends who “flew satellites,” which piqued his interest in space.
In 2008, he cross-trained to become a space operator.
After gaining experience as a space operator, Chua said he was selected to become a “space aggressor” with the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron.
“It was a completely different mindset,” he said, likening the aggressors’ mission to the space version of Top Gun.
“As an aggressor, I was able to grow professionally and gain a better understanding of how space connected to the rest of the Department of Defense,” he said.
Approaching his 10-year mark of service and looking to pursue alternative career options, Chua volunteered to become a Military Training Instructor (MTI).
In 2014, he earned his MTI campaign hat, embarking on a new journey, which he described as “one of his proudest moments.”
For three years, Chua threw himself into his role as an MTI – putting in the long days and countless hours necessary to turn basic trainees into Airmen.
It was during this time that AJ really experienced his father’s world and was exposed to the high expectations and standards that come with being a military servicemember.
“He [AJ] basically lived the BMT life as well and got to see dad in action,” Chua said with a smile.
Chua would eventually return to his space operator career field after his assignment as an MTI.
Fast-forward to 2020, Chua transferred into the newly established U.S. Space Force, trading in his spice-brown name tapes for space blue.
“It was easy for me to transfer based on what I already did day in and day out,” he said. “But it was difficult to make a final decision as I still had my pride with the Air Force since I first enlisted. I just had to swallow my pride and accept the significance of what I can contribute to the new service branch.”
Little did he know his contribution to his new service would be foundational and fundamentally change the way in which the U.S. Space Force would “build and train” its Guardians.
A year into his new journey within the U.S. Space Force, Chua received a phone call that presented him with a unique opportunity to help stand up the service’s own BMT detachment. Although hesitant at first, he decided to take on the challenge, knowing it would take a lot of effort to get a first-of-its-kind unit up and running.
Over the next eight months, he, alongside a team of others, worked tirelessly to plan and execute the standing up of the detachment.
“I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” he said. “And in the end, it was all worth it to see the BMT detachment finally come to life and help shape the future of the Space Force.”
Chua currently serves as the senior enlisted leader of the 1st Delta Operations Squadron, Detachment 1.
The Next Generation
Like most children born into military families, AJ watched his father don his neatly pressed uniform many times over the course of the past 20 years, instilling a sense of pride and a calling to service for as long as he can remember.
Growing up, he loved space, computers, and technology.
“I’ve always been very fond of the topic of space,” he said. “As a child, I was obsessed with ‘Star Wars,’ and at night, I’d fall asleep under a solar system projected above my bed.”
AJ said that for most of his childhood, he never imagined the Space Force would be “a real thing.” But for so many years, his exposure to the military, “satellites,” and “space operations” crystallized his vision to one day serve in the military.
“With my dad as an MTI, I saw how sharp he was and how the rest of the MTIs were very sharp,” he said. “The military has always taken care of us, and I just decided that I had to give back.”
Embarking on his own journey, AJ enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he was pursuing a computer science degree and seeking a commission via the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.
But ultimately, AJ wanted to speed up the process. He was “ready to serve” no matter if it was as an officer or enlisted member. He said he just “wanted to make a difference.”
AJ eventually withdrew from UTSA and enlisted in the U.S. Space Force as a cyber operations specialist.
Passing the Torch
From the first day AJ set foot at BMT as a trainee, he said he felt like “it was fate” as he was assigned to the 326th Training Squadron – the same squadron his father pushed flights through years ago as an Air Force MTI.
“The advice I gave my son after dropping him off at the hotel during BMT ship out night was, ‘AJ, do not put pressure on yourself by trying to be me or anything to do with me, but simply be you,'” Chua said.
For the next seven and a half weeks, AJ was a trainee, forging his own path.
After nearly two months of training, the day finally arrived for Chua to pass the torch of service to his son. The culminating moment was when Chua placed his own U.S. Space Force patch on AJ’s shoulder. The “patch” wasn’t new or fresh out of the box. It was slightly weathered, having been worn by Chua in austere U.S. Space Force locations, such as his time spent in Greenland.
“At the patching ceremony, I told AJ that this patch has been worn in the most austere environment in the U.S. Space Force,” Chua said. “I told him this signifies the connection between us as Guardians and as a family.”
As a father, Chua said he remembers looking AJ in the eyes and taking in the moment that lay before him.
“This moment meant so much more than just the physical act of patching him into the Space Force,” Chua said. “I’m leaving him my legacy. There are not enough words to describe the feeling of knowing that your very own family DNA will also become a part of your family in the service.”
As AJ sets out on his own U.S. Space Force journey, he said he’s excited for what lies ahead.
“I’m hopeful the differences I can and will make will better the Space Force,” AJ said. “I am coming into the Space Force with a positive attitude and a work ethic that will rival my father’s. From there, there’s no way a difference won’t be made.”
As the U.S. Space Force continues to grow and evolve, stories like that of the Chua family will undoubtedly become more common.
Reflecting on the significance of their story, Chua surmised his thoughts into six impactful words: “This is a story of success.”