Gold Bar Series: An Airman's journey from Guyana to COT

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Vernon L. Fowler Jr.
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
For Staff Sgt. Ruchelle Austin, an aerospace medical technician with the 6th Medical Operations Squadron (MDOS), education has always been a necessity instilled in her by her mother. Because of her mother's guidance and sacrifices, Austin is now preparing for commissioned officer training as part of the Air Force Medical Service Corps (MSC) commissioning program.

"My mom was very strict about education; that was my job," said Austin. "She would say that it was my way out."

For Austin, however, the journey to earning two degrees and a commission was not an easy one.

Imagine living in one's home country for the first 13 years of one's life, then packing up and relocating to another continent with a totally different way of life and school system. This is what Austin experienced when she left her home in Guyana, South America and moved to Brooklyn, New York.

According to Austin, the transition from Guyana to Brooklyn was not a smooth one. She remembers replacing a simpler life in her home country with a much faster one in America. Due to the Brooklyn culture, she would have to develop a hard shell around her personality.

"I hated the transition," said Austin. "I learned to only speak when necessary due to people having a hard time communicating with me because of my accent."

In addition to adjusting to the American culture, she now had to learn American history and geography which was altogether foreign to her. After taking placement tests upon her arrival to school, Austin learned that she would have to repeat the eighth grade.

Despite these obstacles, Austin says she never complained and didn't miss a beat in maintaining academic excellence. She also discovered that playing sports eased the transition and allowed her to make friends.

"Due to the lack of resources in Guyana, I viewed school as a privilege," said Austin. "Plus, my mom only let me go to school and play sports."

After becoming the first in her family to graduate high school in America in 2004, Austin would attend the College of New Rochelle in New York. It was there that she says she was able to break out of her shell and finally be herself.

"I went to an all-girls catholic school in college," recounts Austin. "I loved the diversity and felt empowered because there was no pressure to be anything other than myself."

Austin would go on to be a three-sport athlete and receive her bachelor's degree, the first ever in her family, in biology and chemistry in 2008. She would go on to work as an ambulance dispatcher and used the money she saved to make a down payment on a home for her mother.

However, with no money she would now have to make a life choice. Austin remembers talking to a coworker who was prior Army about the military. She says she was advised to enlist into the Air Force because of her desire to continue her education and achieve financial stability.

"I didn't tell my mom I was enlisting until I received my date to go to the Military Entrance Processing Station," said Austin. "She didn't understand my decision and it didn't sink in until the day I was scheduled to leave."

Upon enlisting, Austin's goal was to commission as soon as possible. There was one problem: she was not yet a United States citizen. To receive her citizenship she was required to fill out an application, interview and verbally answer questions about American history, heritage etc.

Despite receiving her citizenship, Austin was still faced with yet another problem, in that her bachelor's was not accepted in the commissioning program she desired.  She would have to pursue her master's degree in an acceptable degree program. She decided on healthcare management. Like many of the other commissioning programs, Austin would have to submit her enlisted performance reports, letters of recommendation, transcripts and any other required paperwork.

"Along with my paperwork I had to interview with an O-6 MSC officer," said Austin. "In my case, that officer turned out to be my group commander; talk about nerve racking!"

Austin's chain of command has had nothing but good things to say about Austin.

"Staff Sgt. Austin is a motivated individual who radiates positive energy with her charismatic personality," said Col. Julie Ostrand, commander of the 6th MDOS. "Her natural skills and leadership abilities are a perfect combination that we seek in Air Force officers."

Leading up to being notified that she was accepted into the program, Austin says she had mixed emotions. She didn't want to be cocky, but she also didn't want to count herself out as a worthy candidate. When she finally received the news, she says she breathed a sigh of relief.

"I felt blessed, honored and relieved because it wasn't something I shared with many people," said Austin. "The first person I told was my mom and I was only able to say 'mom I got it' before bursting into tears."

Through it all, Austin says the journey has helped change her and her family for the better.

"My decision to enlist has affected not only me, but my entire family," said Austin. "It has given me a more structured mindset and caused me to develop an even stronger bond with my mom and siblings."