Staff Sgt. Joana Arpon, 20, is a proud combat soldier serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Unlike her comrades in the IDF, she isn’t an Israeli citizen or Jewish. So why did she volunteer to serve?

Joana was born in Israel to Filipino parents who originally came there as temporary workers. The Israeli government granted permanent residency status to the children of these workers, and their immediate family.

Raised in Mishmar Hashiva, in central Israel, Joana and her brother were the only Filipino students in their school. The Arpon kids’ bond with Israel was strong. Joana’s brother served as a paramedic and is now an Israeli citizen.

Joana’s desire to be a combat soldier - only 7% of whom are women - and fight on the front lines for the Jewish state dates back to November 2013. In that year, a horrific natural disaster struck the Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan. More than 6,300 people were killed, and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed. Joana’s grandmother was injured and lost her home.

On a visit to her grandmother in the hospital, Joana learned that as soon as the typhoon hit, Israel sent IDF soldiers and first responders to help out. The Israeli Army’s Search and Rescue team saved Joana’s grandmother’s life by getting her out of her destroyed home.

“People said without the Israeli soldiers, they weren’t sure they would have survived,” Joana said. “I realized that I wanted to be part of this unit, and definitely this country.”

Two years ago, Joana enlisted in the IDF and was granted her request - to serve in the Search and Rescue Unit. She has since responded to multiple domestic disasters, including wildfires and the deadly collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage.

On Israel’s Independence Day two weeks ago, Joana was one of 120 soldiers recognized by Israel’s president for distinguished service. She and her mother will both be granted citizenship in November.

After her army service, Joana wants to become an architect, and design houses that will withstand extreme weather conditions, unlike her grandmother’s house.

“I’m really glad I chose this type of service, where I was able to help the country that helped me. I see my future in Israel.”

For putting her life on the line to defend Israel, we honor Staff Sgt. Joana Arpon as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Originally published on Facebook.