Being a young parent can be challenging in the best of conditions. Having a child while still in high school can hardly be considered the best of circumstances. Add to the mix joining the military right after graduation and a whole other league of challenges are entered. For Airman 1st Class Jacob Leal, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter apprentice, this is his reality.
Graduating a year and a half early, Leal was already married to his wife, Alana. The couple had a daughter, Delaney.
“I met my wife on the 4th of July the year I was a sophomore and she’d just graduated,” Leal said. “Not long after, we found she was pregnant.”
Determined to provide for his family, Leal began working three jobs while still going to high school.
“I worked for Alana’s dad, at a gym daycare and for Starbucks,” he said.
Leal married his then-fiancée, signed up for the early enlistment program and buckled down in school, qualifying to graduate early.
“A few months after I graduated from high school, I was off to basic training,” Leal said. “I left Sept. 3, and my daughter’s first birthday was Sept. 6. I missed it because I was in basic.”
But it was the motivation that Leal needed to keep going. Wanting to be able to provide for his family and the fact that he was a teen parent was a driving factor for his enlistment into the military.
“I did it for my family,” he said. “The service seemed like the best option for my life.”
Leal now has two years in service under his belt. His family is still the motivation for him to keep going, he said. He especially enjoys spending time with the family he loves so much.
“I come here, do my work and as soon as I get off, I go home, relax and be with them,” he said. “It’s a reminder of why I come here, struggle and push through it to get my goals met. It’s really nice seeing them be happy and taken care of. It’s really rewarding.”
Leal recognizes how tough it is being a young parent.
“I see my friends on Facebook,” he said. “They went on living their lives, going to college and having fun. There are some days my wife and I both wish we could be doing other stuff, but we have to go and change a poopy diaper.”
That isn’t to say that he regrets his life or his decision to have a family. He understands the rewards that come with parenthood.
“My daughter is a lot closer to my wife than me because she’s home with her more than me,” Leal said. “But my daughter is 3 years old, and she has come up to me and said, ‘Daddy, you’re my hero,’ and it brought tears to my eyes. Here is my daughter, just learning how to count, and she says I’m her hero. Just to see how much she looks up to me is extremely rewarding. It makes it all worth it.”
Leal went on to tell how when his daughter sees a fire truck on TV, she will get excited and exclaim “Look! There’s daddy’s fire truck!”
“I think that for me, being a teen parent has contributed to the success and drive I have in the military,” Leal said. “I try really hard in my job. I really care about it. I care about my profession and my personal growth now more than ever.”