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Cautious to confident

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Danielle Quilla
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
I remember one day in seventh grade, my teacher changed the seating chart. The girl next to me, who I had other classes with before, leaned over and whispered, "are you new?"

Of course I was aware of how quiet and painstakingly shy I was. I never raised my hand to answer a question, and people would often talk over me because, I guess, they just couldn't hear me.

But until that moment, I didn't realize I was invisible too.

Growing up as an Air Force dependent, I wasn't a stranger to constantly moving. My family and I moved about every three to four years.

It typically took me a year to ease into the new surroundings and make a friend or two.

However, it didn't matter how long I had been at a school, I was always the new girl.
When my dad got orders to move from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, I knew I had to make some changes. I would be starting tenth grade at Guam High School, which had a Navy Junior Officer Training Corps program my parents strongly suggested I try out for.

At first, I was against the idea because I knew I wouldn't be able to yell if I needed to. However, checking that elective box was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Within the first week of school I made a whole new group of friends. I was still "the quiet one," but at least this time things were different.

Even during the Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge, or what we called encampment, I met a boy from a rival school who would one day become my husband.

For a short time my future started to look bright. I had friends, a boyfriend named Rey Jee, and I actually felt like I fit in. With my confidence building, I took a leap out of my comfort zone to be second in command of a platoon, and during my senior year I was selected to be a class leader for first-year cadets.

With that being said, the progress I had made up until this point came to a halt in 2011 when my parents got a divorce months before my graduation. My whole world was turned upside down and I began to withdraw from my friends and fade into the background again.

I thank God that Rey Jee was there for me to lean on and to listen to my concerns. Although we were separated right after graduation, our commitment to each other remained. He was off to Air Force basic military training shortly after graduating, while my mom, younger brother and I moved to San Diego, California, to live with relatives.

When I started college at San Diego State University that fall, I was relieved to find out that it was socially acceptable to sit on a bench alone. The only time I really had to interact with people was during labs or group assignments, and the daily "hi" to my roommate.

Sadly, despite my efforts I fell short of the requirements for SDSU's nursing program and had to figure out a plan B.

After picking up my books for my last semester of general courses, my mom made a detour to the Air Force recruiter's office and said, "Let's just see if someone is there."

We had talked about the Air Force as an option before, but there never seemed to be a right time to stop in.

Thankfully, the office was open and I found myself sitting in front of a recruiter.

Four months later, with the experiences from NJROTC under my belt, I confidently raised my right hand in May 2013 to enlist in the Air Force. I was in the delayed entry program for seven months before I got a call from the recruiter with a job offer.

He told me it was a new job with the title photojournalist and he didn't have much information about it, but I thought how hard could it be to write stories and take pictures?

On Jan. 7, 2014, I left for BMT. My military training instructor called me a wallflower, but I didn't mind because getting through under the radar was my goal.

It was when I got to the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, in March 2014 for my technical training, that I was in for a rude awakening.

I discovered that the career field was under public affairs, and I would eventually have to do some public speaking, which was my biggest fear.

My journalism instructor surprised me one morning with his plan to have me present current events at the start of class to help me get over my anxiety of speaking in front of groups. He called it "Coffee with Conde," which was my maiden name at the time.

At the time I strongly regretted my decision to take the photojournalism job, but looking back on it now I am happy I went through that experience.

Today, as a senior airman stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, I have several speaking engagements on my résumé, and I actually look forward to my interviews with people. I finally feel like I have found my voice and I am comfortable in my own skin.

I have my public affairs family to thank for pushing me to step out of my comfort zone and my husband for always supporting me through thick and thin.

If I could, I would go back and tell my seventh grade self, "one day you'll find your voice."