One Team Edwards member's educational journey

  • Published
  • By Capt. Robby Gallegos
  • 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron

In February 2000, I enlisted in the United States Air Force at the age of 19. Unlike many of our airmen today, I entered the Air Force with just a High School Diploma, and I was married with a child on the way.
I entered the Air Force as a 2W1X1, Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist or better known as a "Load Toad" or "Weapons Loader." In the beginning, the lifestyle was challenging. I was trying to juggle a new family, adjust to the military environment, and complete upgrade training and Career Development Courses (CDCs). The thought of off-duty education was the lowest priority, not to mention college classes in conjunction with CDCs was not permitted. As time went on, the job became more demanding especially after September 11, 2001, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Noble Eagle. I was deployed, TDY and working long hours and weekends. In an instant, four years went by, having not taken a single step towards a college education.

In late 2003, I was assigned to the Weapons Standardization section and Staff Sergeant Dale King became my immediate supervisor that changed the course of my career. Up to that point, SSgt King was one of the best first-line supervisors I have had in my career. He did what was expected of an NCO; he was a mentor, leader, motivator and held me accountable. During our performance feedback session, he was clear about expectations, stressed professional and personal growth and achievement. This was the first time I had serious discussions regarding off-duty education with anyone. It wasn't about building a record to win quarterly or annual awards, it was truly about my development. To this day I still remember the words of motivation and encouragement of "don't wait” …"take advantage of your time now” …life only gets busier. SSgt King introduced me to the education office, helped with enrollment and degree choice. It wasn’t until mid-2004 as a SSgt myself, enrolled in my first class through Clovis Community College and later Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Motivation and inspiration to keep going was driven by SSgt King as he took classes with me. My educational journey began! It wasn't long until I was finishing class after class with King asking, "What class is next” and continuously, asking if I had registered for the next term! The inspiration was so profound, at one point during that time, nearly the whole section was taking classes.

In 2006, I PCS’d to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. At the time I was one class away from my CCAF and six classes from a bachelor’s degree. With the transition to a new base, a new home, and a new group of peers, my motivation for school decreased. I was fortunate to have a close friend named SSgt Mike Sabin from Cannon AFB who moved to Elmendorf alongside me. He had inspiration to finish his bachelor’s degree and go to Officer Training School to become a pilot. In some sort of way, he was my competition to finish a degree first. Even though he ultimately finished before me, he kept me encouraged to avoid academic stagnation to keep moving forward.

Officer Training School was the last thought on my mind during my eight years in the Air Force, but I always had the determination to do more with my career. I wanted to be involved in decision making processes and make a difference wherever I was. There were many variables in the decision-making process that ultimately drove submission of a package to attend OTS, but without the educational foundation, it couldn't have happened. In 2007 I was selected for promotion to TSgt and OTS, completed my CCAF and bachelor’s degree.

Despite having completed my early educational goals and now a United States Air Force Officer, the journey didn’t stop. With strong leadership by my new supervisor, I was encouraged to pursue a master’s degree. Despite the demanding responsibilities and work hours of the new role, I took on as much course work as I could with the time I had. There were delays attending Professional Military Education, TDYs and training, but I kept going until I completed it.

Looking back at my educational journey and my Air Force career, I wouldn't be where I am today without strong mentors, supervisors, and peers that inspired and motivated me. If there wasn't a supervisor like SSgt King, it’s hard to imagine where I would be today or what I would be doing. Sometimes all it takes is some involvement in your troop's lives. The leadership, encouragement and inspiration could make a significant difference in a person’s life or a career path.