On Independence Day, the Israel Defense Forces honored Joana Chris Arpon, a Filipino woman who is neither Jewish nor Israeli, for her service as a combat soldier in Israel’s army.
Staff. Sgt. Arpon was among 120 soldiers who were honored by President Reuven Rivlin for their distinguished service in the army.
With remarkable motivation, the 20 year old had years ago determined to join Israel’s military upon learning that an IDF delegation had saved her grandmother in the Philippines following the horrific Haiyan super typhoon that struck there in 2013.
After the typhoon, which killed an estimated 10,000 people, Israel sent a team of IDF doctors and Home Front Command search and rescue soldiers to assist with the cyclone’s aftermath.
Speaking to reporters, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, commander of the IDF Home Front Command, said at the time: “Providing aid and assistance is part of who we are… Our mission is challenging but here sit the best of the best, trained professionals with years of experience. It’s a huge honor to represent the State of Israel and an even bigger honor to help save lives and assist those in need.”
Arpon’s grandmother was rescued from her wrecked home by IDF Search and Rescue soldiers sent with the Israeli delegation.
“They saved my grandmother when her house was destroyed. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s what I want to do,’” Arpon told Israeli media.
Arpon fought to be placed in the IDF Search and Rescue Unit and served as a combat soldier. Females comprise just 7 percent of all combat soldiers. Since earning her assignment, Arpon has been involved with responding to domestic disasters for the last two and a half years.
One of some 31,000 Filipino caregivers working in Israel, Arpon’s mother came to the Jewish state in 1988 to work as a nanny. Arpon was raised in Israel even after her father left the family. She is among hundreds of Filipino children who were granted permanent residency. If these children complete army service they may apply for citizenship. Both Arpon and her mother will be granted Israeli citizenship later this year.
“People said without the Israeli soldiers, they weren’t sure they would have survived,” she said referring to the typhoon which sparked her decision to become an IDF soldier. “I realized that I wanted to be part of this unit, and definitely this country.”