By Senior Airman Ashley Perdue, 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 09, 2020
“Why didn’t you commission,” is a question I get asked every time I share my ‘why I joined the Air Force’ story.
I enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from college.
I started seriously inquiring about the military and commissioning when my husband, a Navy corpsman, and I split up. I put my career on hold since I knew we’d be moving around a lot and worked a very low paying job to bring in some extra money in the meantime. I learned the hard way that this job would not provide an income I could survive on.
I met with a Navy recruiter who told me my grade point average was too low, to go get my Master’s degree and then go see him. Due to circumstances throughout my college career, I lost four years worth of grades, grades that placed me on the Dean’s List, and by the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I only had two years of grades.
I struggled in one class that unfortunately influenced my final GPA, for the worst.
I then looked into the Air Force thinking I may have a chance, but it turned out to be the same thing. To even attempt to have my GPA requirement waived, the process required patience and time; I needed a job, now! At that moment, I decided enlistment was the way to go. If anything, it will help open countless doors of opportunity. Which turned out to be true.
However, I didn’t think that I’d be looked at as just an Airman 1st Class.
Even though I was excited for my new journey and new opportunities, I struggled to fit in.
I felt a lot of pressure to get Senior Airman Below-the-Zone and to make staff sergeant the first time in an attempt to try and catch up with other people my age. I already felt like a failure, starting over and starting at the bottom next to people who have never had a job before, but this was my way of catching up.
I also failed at this attempt.
Currently, I’m 30 years old and a Senior Airman.
In the Air Force, or any branch really, people my age are typically non-commissioned officers or captains (O3) among the officer ranks. It is expected they keep professional relationships and not affiliate with subordinates such as myself, despite us being the same age and some even holding the same Bachelor of Science diplomas. Most of my leadership is younger than me, to include my supervisor and across my rank, it mostly consists of young 20-year-olds living in the prime of their lives. It’s a life I have already lived and it’s hard to move backwards into that lifestyle just to not feel alone. It’s tough to find my place as I wasn’t just a young A1C and I’m not just a young Senior Airman.
I’ve lived on my own since I was 17, I’ve been married, I’ve been divorced, I’ve lost myself, put others before me and somehow pulled through all of it and made it on top.
My journey hasn’t been easy. I’m a very prideful person, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot, I’ve fallen even more, but I want to remind everyone to not pass judgments on someone based on the rank they wear.
Some of us were college professors before enlisting, some of us are fresh out of high school, some of us needed a new direction in life and some of us needed to provide for our families, but just because we wear the same rank doesn’t mean we are the same or deserve to be treated as such.
So when asked why I joined and why I didn’t commission, based on Air Force standards my GPA tells you I’m not smart enough to be an officer. That one number decided my fate despite the challenges I faced and overcame.
I did the next best thing. I enlisted in order to survive, start over and to not only provide a life for myself but for my future family.
My resilience to never settle keeps me going and if there’s anything I hope gets taken away from this, it’s to not look at someone’s degree or rank to determine their worth but what I, what we, can all offer to the Air Force on a much deeper level. I believe we have a lot of beautiful souls and talent that gets lost in the chaos of rules and standards that have been in place for decades.
We are fluid, flexible and open minded as asked, but we also ask that in return.