Staff Sgt. Supria Calvert-Reisner demonstrates a Thai greeting during the Cobra Gold exercise at Korat, Thailand.

Staff Sgt. Supria Calvert-Reisner demonstrates a Thai greeting during the Cobra Gold exercise at Korat, Thailand. (Seth Robson / S&S)

KORAT, Thailand — Seventeen years ago, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Supria Calvert-Reisner was a 9-year-old Thai schoolgirl.

This month, the 26-year-old, now stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., as a member of the 1st Weather Squadron, returned to the land of her birth for the Cobra Gold 2004 exercise. It’s the first time Calvert-Reisner has been back to Thailand since 1987, when her American aunt and uncle adopted her and moved to Houston.

“Not only do I get the chance to see my family, but seeing Thailand again is a totally different view to when I was little. I’m absorbing everything,” she said.

During a break from Cobra Gold, Calvert-Reisner traveled to her hometown — Pun Knon in northern Thailand — to meet her extended family, including her birth mother and numerous aunts whom she also describes as her “moms.”

“It was emotional to see them. They were all asking so many questions, but I had so little time. They want to know about everything because we didn’t have a very good connection [while she was in the United States],” she said.

These days, Calvert-Reisner is a proud Texan — she recently lasted three seconds on the back of a rodeo bull — and prefers the cold weather of Washington to the heat and humidity of Thailand. However, she still speaks Thai and enjoys using the Thai greeting, bowing and holding her hands together.

Other soldiers say she’s been one of the “stars” of Cobra Gold, giving numerous interviews to the Thai media, acting as an interpreter and arranging a sports day for Thai and U.S. soldiers. Calvert-Reisner was attached to the C7 Civil Affairs unit during the exercise and participated in several projects at local schools.

One involved collecting donations from soldiers to finance school construction projects and the purchase of books and other educational equipment. Another involved soldiers traveling to the Friendship School in Korat, which was built by the U.S. military, to teach conversational English.

“With the schools, I am actually helping the children and everybody at the school. I know how it is not to have anything,” Calvert-Reisner said.

She attended a school in Thailand without electricity or road access.

“You have to walk through the rice paddies to get to school. You don’t have books in the library or computers or air conditioners like in the U.S.,” she recalled.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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