My mother and I moved from Colombia, South America, to Florida when I was five years old. I was raised in a family where our financial status was well below average, but I was always taught by my mother the importance of education and seizing an opportunity when it presented itself.
“Chances are, if you let it slip away, it will probably never return,” she would say.
After moving to the United States, my mother immediately enrolled in a class to learn English so she could find a job and give us a better life in this new country. However, in 1994 she was diagnosed with a condition known as cysticercosis. She had surgery to repair the condition but was told she would probably be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life and would never be able to work again.
Not only was my mother able to defy those odds, but 18 months after her life-threatening surgery, she returned to school to finish an English program at Miami Dade Community College and then pursued her associate’s degree in human resources.
There are many parents that preach the importance of education to their children, but I saw my mother follow her own advice. It set the foundation for my future educational pursuits.
During the first week of my Basic Military Training in 2003, we listened to the GI Bill briefing. I remember some of my fellow trainees refusing the bill because they did not want to invest $100 a month for 12 months to receive more than $30,000 toward education. Some of the trainees said that they were going to be in the service for 20 years so they didn’t need money for education. I told them although they may have entered the service because of job security, it does not mean it will always be there. Nothing is given to you, especially in the military. You have to earn it.
I immediately signed up for the GI Bill, but it took some time for me to get started.
After arriving at my first duty station at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, my supervisor mentioned something about completing a Community College of the Air Force degree. I didn’t listen to him at the time. Maybe it had something to do with his approach, but I just did not see the importance of completing something that I had no intention of using upon exiting the service. I was working as a medic. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future, but one thing was for sure – I did not want to do anything in the medical field.
In the summer of 2009, I met my mentor, MSgt. Alan Braden, during a deployment to Southwest Asia. He explained to me how a CCAF degree would catapult my Air Force career and the importance of having one when it came to promotion. Special duty assignments would require a CCAF and I would not be selected if I did not have one. From that point on, I made it a goal that I would complete my CCAF and continue on to pursue bachelor’s degree in management.
In the process of completing the CCAF degree, I CLEP-ed three classes and took two more through Park University. From the time I decided to pursue the CCAF, all it took was six months do so.
Now, I’m a strong believer that if I’m going to effectively lead, mentor and guide airmen, education will be my main asset to get there.
In the Airman’s Creed, the last section says, “I am an American Airman. Wingman, Leader, Warrior.” By furthering our education, we are being true wingmen, strong leaders and mighty warriors.
Upon finishing all my requirements for a CCAF degree in Allied Health Sciences, I decided to walk in the graduation ceremony at Hanscom, in May 2011. My mother was there to watch me receive the diploma. Even today she continues to be an inspiration for my success – I’m still enrolled in Park University, with a goal of completing my bachelor’s in the spring of 2013.