TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – I joined the Air Force in 1992 for the financial stability and education benefits because when I graduated high school, I could not afford college.
In 1993, I had been in for one year and I completed my career development courses and upgrade training, so I was ready to start college. My supervisor was unapproachable, insincere and spoke to me in an intimidating way. I would call this ‘old Air Force leadership.’
When I asked if I could request tuition assistance for college, he yelled at me with a big “no,” followed by, “In my 16-year career, I haven’t been allowed to attend college, why should you?”
I was experiencing a time in the Air Force when Airmen were being encouraged to attend college, but supervisors who had not attended college were having a hard time supporting this transition.
Time flew, and I was into my second year of my four-year enlistment. I continued to work hard as a diet therapy technician. One day, our flight’s senior enlisted leader, Chief Arnold, stopped me and said, “I noticed you’re a hard worker. How come I have not seen you involved in activities like intramural sports, volunteer events or flight gatherings?”
I told him I was not interested in attending because I was not going to stay in the Air Force. Furthermore, I explained that I felt like no one had my best interest in mind, my supervisor denied me tuition assistance, and nobody noticed my hard work and contributions to the mission. I was married and had a daughter, and since I didn’t have money to pay for college before I joined, I wanted to make sure I was able to provide education opportunities for my family in the future. The way my first supervisor treated me made me doubt that the Air Force could help me reach this goal.
Arnold sat me down and explained that I mattered as a person, as an Airman and it was important to him that I be part of the Air Force mission. He continued to explain how education benefits worked, and most of all, he taught me how to have family goals. This was the first time I ever received any mentorship. During this time, it was called “taking someone under your wing.” He made a huge impact on my life. Because of Arnold, I stand here today after almost 26 years in the Air Force as a chief master sergeant.
My family serves along with me as my wife Sonya, is an operating room nurse at David Grant USAF Medical Center, my daughter, Staff Sgt. Brittany Malacara, is an aerospace medical technician in DGMC’s intensive care unit, and my son, Senior Airman Brandon Malacara, is a radio frequency transmission technician at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina.
You see, the mentorship provided to me by Arnold in 1994 not only kept me in the Air Force to continue to support the United States, it added three more Airmen to the force. My whole family has benefited from the education benefits and programs the Air Force offers. I couldn’t be more proud, and I thank Arnold for what he did for me that day.
I challenge you to notice your Airmen for who they are and what they bring to the fight. Show them how they fit in the Air Force picture and explain how they can use Air Force programs to reach their goals. Too many times our Airmen are not treated like people. Instead, they are treated like the number of stripes on their sleeves like my staff sergeant supervisor treated me in 1993.