Face of Defense: Airman finds his life’s direction as maintainer

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TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Reasons for joining the Air Force are varied. For some, it’s for the benefits, such as job security, higher education and medical coverage. For others, joining is more personal and could be for reasons that involve patriotism or following in the footsteps of a family member.

No matter the reason, it is a life-changing event.

For Air Force Staff Sgt. Terrell Cole, a 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron communication/navigation mission system craftsman, joining the Air Force meant a future for himself and his future family.

Rocky Start

“I joined the military because of my rocky start at adult life,” Cole said. “When I was 18, I proudly left for college with big dreams, but while I was there, I did not manage my own priorities half as well as I managed the issues of others, and I ended up failing out of school within my first year.”

He added, “I was too proud, ashamed and foolish to go home, so I spent the better part of a year jobless, sleeping in my car and [in] empty apartments or the homes of whoever would allow me to stay.”

Cole came up with creative ways to survive. “I ended up playing music and singing for different churches for food,” he said. “I also donated plasma for money,” he said.

When he finally decided to return home, he said, a friend named Elmer Taborn suggested that he research the military.

“I was hesitant,” Cole said. “But he put it simply: I could continue doing what I had been doing and cut grass for him for a few dollars, or I could have a future for myself and the family I would one day have.”

New Beginning

Cole went with Taborn to the recruiter’s office and found a new lease on life.

“I am responsible for troubleshooting aircraft discrepancies, repairing and inspecting all aircraft communication and navigation systems on 27 KC-10A aircraft valued at over $2.3 billion,” Cole said. “My favorite part of the job is training new individuals on troubleshooting procedures. Doing that equips them for their job and enables mission success. Long after I am gone and they forget my name, the information will be there for them to use and build upon.”

After eight and half years of service, Cole has a wife, two sons and an Air Force family.

“I met him through the chapel when he first arrived fresh from training,” said Marie Ruff, Travis Youth Center child program technician and a friend of Cole’s. “He’s a great guy and he is an awesome volunteer. We go to chapel together and he volunteers weekly with us. He’s my friend and my brother.

“I have had the opportunity to watch him grow from a new airman to an amazing husband and father,” she continued. “It’s been a blessing.”

Cole said he has big plans for his future.

“My future goals include finishing my degree, commissioning and to be an example of the man I pray daily my sons grow to become,” he said.