I was raised in Lima, Peru in a household where food was scarce, I shared a bed with three siblings and my grandmother and the clothes were hand-me-downs. I learned to appreciate my family and the little things. Although migrating to America at the age of 10 was one of the smartest moves my family made for me, the culture acclimation felt overwhelming, especially when most of my classmates only spoke English.
At first, I thought American kids were extremely friendly since everyone went out of their way to talk to me, but I learned quickly about the American sense of humor and the art of sarcasm which they used to make fun. Thankfully, I was able to use this as my drive to study morning, noon and night so that I could begin to understand and communicate with my new American friends. After I mastered the basics, I was able to carry conversations and make some really good friends which made me feel a bit more part of the team.
My older sister joined the Marines right after high school and this planted the idea that I could do the same. Initially, I steered towards the Army. One day I spoke to my Uncle Jimmy, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. He said, “If you like using a fork and knife to eat, then join the Air Force.” Well, that did it. I visited the recruiter and after three tries at the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, I was on my way to basic training. From the start of my career and as I moved up in the ranks, I followed all my supervisors’ guidance about my roles and responsibilities, which would help me produce a good work performance. I never wanted to be a slacker, so I did what I needed to do, what I was told to do and more. Once I became a supervisor, I observed the most put together non-commissioned officer at my workshop and emulated him as much as possible. He was like a little toy soldier who seemed to bark orders, yet the Airmen flocked around him willingly. My first subordinate took care of herself, yet I always did my best to support and develop her even if I did not know what I was doing, I would figure it out. I wanted to do a good job as a supervisor.
In 2008, I was a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in management, which only took me 17 years to complete. The journey was quite treacherous and felt never-ending, yet, once I was done I wanted more, so I completed a negotiations certification from Notre Dame University and finished my Master’s Degree program with American Public University in 2012. I mostly did this because I saw others going to school and succeeding, so I let the competitive side of me drive me. I also felt that I wanted to challenge myself and prove that I could do well in school. It gave me pride to be able to be the first in my family to have a post-graduate education. The experience and what I learned turned me into a much better communicator.
All of my experiences and accomplishments were reached because I wanted to be a better person and Airman. I have done many things to push myself out of my comfort zone mostly because I really enjoy challenges and there was always a supervisor, co-worker or friend to encourage me to go for whatever it was I feared by boosting my confidence. Now as a chief, I am pushing myself further because all my Airmen need me to prepare, advise, teach, guide and encourage them as tomorrow’s leaders and my replacement. I thought that from the moment I became a senior NCO, I started this role of learning and growing.
As I look back at my career, it all really began the moment I rolled up to the recruiter’s office. Every step I have taken has prepared me for today, and if I still do not know something, too bad. I learn and I find answers. I need to take care of my Airmen and afford them a lot more opportunities than the ones I had, set them up for tomorrow so they can be greater leaders.