By Capt. Erin A. Ranaweera, U.S. Air Force

Memorial Day is one set aside to honor those who have sacrificed in America’s Armed Forces and reflect on their legacy and sacrifices in service to this great country. Throughout generations the military has always been a tight-knit community. And for those who serve in America’s Air Force, it’s a second family united by a desire to protect our families, communities and nation.

Lilia Franco

Last year, Allen met with Lilia Franco, a young woman with a degree in Criminal Justice. Although bright and hardworking, she couldn’t find employment that utilized her degree. After months of searching for a job in her field of study, she became a ticket usher at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Franco wanted a change and that’s when she looked to the Air Force for opportunity. Franco approached her recruiter Allen about serving in either Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice fields. She wanted a challenge, something that would push her to her absolute limits. Allen recalls, “We spoke about some different career fields but the one she was enthused about was Security Forces.”

Security Forces is a modern version of Military Police but the mission is much more verbose. These Defenders as they are called, have the task of guarding our gates, patrolling our bases, and training our Airmen to use firearms, just to name a few. Security Forces also has special positions such as K-9 which uses military working dogs, Quick Response Force (QRF) which is similar to a local police SWAT team and, finally, the coveted Raven Teams who fly aboard military aircraft and tasked with the safety and security of our aircraft and supplies.

Flying High at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

Allen explained in detail what the Security Forces mission entailed and the challenges she would face. Franco, who was not deterred by difficulty, immediately set her sights on that career and made it her goal to become a Security Forces Defender. It was the perfect opportunity for her to apply the knowledge she gained earning her Criminal Justice degree and it was the challenge she yearned for.

Allen noticed the most powerful transformation in Franco was not her new job or career field but her confidence and pride. “Before leaving for Air Force Basic Military Training (BMT) in San Antonio, Texas, Franco was very shy and had a soft-spoken tone in her voice. Upon her return to New York City as Airman First Class Franco she stood tall in my office, looking sharp in her uniform and her beret, exhibiting a strong aura of confidence. I asked her how she was enjoying the Air Force and her response was the exact reason I love my job as an Air Force Recruiter. “This is the best decision I have made and I want to thank you for everything you have done for me, Sergeant.” I just grinned like a proud parent! I’ll never forget the warm feeling that came over me knowing that I helped to change this young woman’s life and provide her with a clear path to success.”

Henery at work

Poke, another local New York recruiter, remembers meeting Shequita Henery shortly after she didn’t qualify for an Air Force officer position. “I was blown away by her positive attitude and her willingness to serve. She expressed the desire to travel, continue her education, and also help people,” he said. Like many recruits, Henery wanted to escape all the crime in her neighborhood and felt that the Air Force could provide a better life.

She maintained a positive attitude throughout the recruiting process and even referred several friends to her Air Force recruiter. Poke recalls that Henery faced additional challenges before leaving for BMT. One evening Henery got into a disagreement with a neighbor, and soon after the neighbor made a false accusation which blemished her record right before her scheduled departure date for BMT. Henery was devastated”. Her dream of becoming an Airman might have been in jeopardy, but Poke knew the quality of her character. “After gathering all the facts, I determined that I would do my part to give her a chance to serve,” Poke said. He submitted a waiver to allow Henery to enlist and the Commander agreed that she would be a great asset to the Air Force.

Recruitment Day in Times Square

Henery’s goal was to become a psychologist since she had a degree in a similar field. She knew that securing a career in Mental Health would be very difficult but she was open to serve in any career field where she could make a difference. Henery shipped out to BMT in the beginning of 2017 with a Computer Systems job. Before graduation Henery’s leadership secured a job for her in Mental Health. She’s now Airman 1st Class Henery, stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah and has maintained that same great attitude. She recently scored a 97 on her annual Physical Training test and has been an active volunteer in the local schools.

Currently, she is preparing to apply for an officer commission and fulfill her dream of becoming a psychologist. “Airman First Class Henery’s positive attitude and determination has allowed her to overcome the drugs and violence that plague many inner cities,” Poke said. “To this day she still thanks me for believing in her, but all I can do is thank her back for making our Air Force stronger than ever!”

While Memorial Day is dedicated to honor those who have sacrificed while in America’s Armed Forces, we also look to the future and those men and women who carry on this legacy with pride. Each day young people across the country make the choice to join America’s Air Force. They are remarkable, unique and passionate; they will ensure this great nation remains free for the next generation.