Oklahoma Navy Petty Officer receives Humanitarian Service Medal for past refugee work
Joining the Navy gave Austin Zeschin, Petty Officer 2nd Class, a chance to be a part of something bigger than himself.
Nearly four years later, Zeschin received recognition for his humanitarian work helping refugees in Spain, leaving a positive impact on hundreds of people’s lives — including his own.
Zeschin, who grew up in Platteville, took up the opportunity to join the military with his main desire centered around the financial benefits of serving, including not having to worry about college tuition, he said.
“He’s a hard worker,” Zeschin’s grandama Rosemary Zeschin said. “He really cares about our country and he’s just a neat young man taking advantage of the military opportunities.”
Zeschin’s first duty station was located in Spain — not only an exciting opportunity to defend his country, but also a chance for a small-town kid to see the world.
In Spain, he helped house and process around 3,000 refugees at Camp Sobiak, providing people and families with “regular stuff that humans deserve,” he said. The camp contained bathrooms with showers, a medical facility, tents and a processing building.
The military also screened refugees to figure out if they were going to resettle in the United States or another country.
As a result of his work in Spain, he received the Humanitarian Service Medal, awarded to those who have “direct participation in a significant military act or operation of humanitarian in nature,” according to Zeschin.
Despite the honor, Zeschin described the rewarding element of his time at Camp Sobiak as kicking around a soccer ball with little kids and seeing the joy on their faces. He said he loved providing children a chance to see the good parts of the United States military.
“The award wasn’t the honorable part,” Zeschin said. “The award was just something that came with it, but the most rewarding part was to see the smile on the little kids’ faces.”
Zeschin’s said his time in Spain also happened to be one of the most rewarding aspects of his four-year journey in the military. He explained that when the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, many refugees who didn’t have the simple things in life came through Spain.
Zeschin said he had the prospect to supply refugees with access to fundamental services and see smiles on their faces.
“I got to see how I was positively impacting other people’s lives who came from nothing,” Zeschin said.
Now stationed in Oklahoma at Tinker Air Force Base, Zeschin works as a diesel mechanic on heavy equipment machinery such as semi trucks and construction equipment.
Rosemary said he is part of the mission “Take Charge and Move Out,” the key to the nation’s nuclear deterrence. The mission provides airborne communications links to nuclear missile units of U.S. Strategic Command.
“He is just so proud of himself and we’re all so proud of him,” Rosemary said.
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