TRAVIS AFB (CBS13) — A first-generation Cuban-American airman from Travis Air Force Base got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when he was one of five people selected from the base to travel to Cuba as part of President Barack Obama’s historic visit.
Sgt. Paul Garcia always dreamed of going back to the place of his roots, but he never imagined it would be like this.READ MORE: 2 People Taken To Hospital After Arden-Arcade Fourplex Fire
Garcia, of the 21st Airman Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, along with three pilots and one other loadmaster, got word they were heading to Cuba.
“Definitely didn’t expect the opportunity, especially on a C-17 going to Havana of all places,” he said.
Obama was the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1959.
“When we landed, airport staff greeted us, welcomed to Havana, started talking to him in Spanish so I felt really at home,” he said. “One of the airport staff asked me, ‘Your accent; are you Cuban?’ I said I am, and he was like ‘Wow that’s awesome.’”READ MORE: San Joaquin Sheriff: Alleged Law Enforcement Officer Impersonator Used Spouse’s Access Card To Get Into Secure Areas
Garcia’s parents were born in Cuba before they made their way to Orange, California after the revolution. That’s where Garcia was born. Under the Castro regime, his grandparents suffered. He says his grandfather spent four years in an internment camp and his grandmother was imprisoned for simply going to church.
“It was a very emotional event, tears rolling down her eyes, never had she imagined an American aircraft to land in Havana,” he said. “Finally setting foot on that Cuban soil was something I was very proud to finally do.”
The aircraft was the sole C-17 out of Travis to land in Cuba after 88 years. On board, some passengers involved with the president’s visit and three special items being gifted from the U.S. To Cuba.
“We actually had the opportunity to transport two magnolia trees and a bench as well, a nice park bench that they were dedicating from them to the Cuban people,” he said.
Garcia only spent a short time in Cuba and didn’t get to meet the president, but he says it’s a visit he’ll never forget.MORE NEWS: Hot Weather Means NorCal Rattlesnake Season Has Arrived
“It means a lot to me, all the things they went through and looking into the future on where things may go,” he said.