A whim turned into a life

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Paddock
  • 960th Cyberspace Wing

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- In 2008, I was living with my husband in a tiny apartment in Tennessee. I had been working as an executive assistant for the director of a local in-patient psychiatric facility. I enjoyed my job and my coworker, but my husband and I were struggling to make ends meet. My husband was working as a youth minister at a local church and made very little money. We had both gone to a private college and still had student loan debt. 

So I came home from work one day, frustrated with our financial situation, and began talking to my husband about what to do while he was washing the dishes. For some unknown reason these words just came out of my mouth, “Forget this, I’m just going to join the Air Force and they’ll pay for me to go back to school!” I left the room while he finished up the dishes.

Once he was done with the dishes he came into our office and asked, “Why don’t we join the Air Force?” Immediately, I thought he was crazy. I had never in my life considered the military as an option. Growing up as a child of hippies, it never occurred to me to be a part of something that went to war; but somewhere in my head I must have known that joining the military can help pay for school.

So my husband and I began doing our research, looking on the internet and talking to friends and family. We gathered as much information as we could about this major life choice. 

Every Air Force veteran we talked to said, “Absolutely! Join the Air Force!” And every Army veteran we talked to said, “Absolutely! Join the Air Force!”

We armed ourselves with as much information as the internet could give us, so the day we walked into the recruiting office, we came like a storm. 

“We would like to join the Air Force,” my husband said. “I’m going to work with computers and she needs a medical job. We want to do college loan repayment, even though I understand that means we have to waive our GI Bill. We need to be able to get stationed together and go to basic training at the same time!”

The poor recruiter’s eyes got so big. He didn’t know what college loan repayment was and we found out later we were his first recruits. 

We were able to get the jobs we wanted, leave for basic training on the same day and were even able to pick our first base due to a clerical error with our AF Joint Spouse Program application. Our plan was to only do four years; enough time to get out of debt, go to school and start a family.

By the end of our four year enlistment, we said goodbye to $60k in student and car loan debt. We had saved up a bit for a down payment on a house, my husband got his master’s degree and we had our first daughter. All things that we could not have imagined just four years earlier.

While coming up on the end of our contracts, we thought it might not be a great idea to have both of us transitioning out of the military at the same time, so I extended my contract for one more year. During the course of that year I became pregnant with our second daughter.

But I was also struggling with my oldest daughter, as she had been diagnosed with Failure to Thrive. We were going to doctors’ appointments more than weekly. She was hospitalized for a week at a children’s hospital to try and figure out why she wasn’t growing.

After a lot of hard work, heart-ache and fighting, we finally learned that she had a growth hormone deficiency. Each day, I may have been overwhelmed with the level of administrative work required to find her diagnosis, but I could always step back and be grateful that none of this would have been possible if we hadn’t joined the Air Force. 

I am now 12 years into that four year contract. I am grateful every day for the opportunities we have because of this one random joke I made about joining the Air Force.

I have been able to meet the Secretary of the Air Force, former President Obama, and work with incredible people from all over the world. My kids are spoiled with events put on by the Airman and Family Readiness Center, growing up in the Child Development Centers and never having to worry about getting hurt. My daughter gets her medicine, which costs an average of $30k to $40k a year on the civilian side. We can enjoy being a family because we know that the Air Force is taking care of her medical needs. 

Over the past 12 years I have learned so much more about the military than I knew when we started. My husband and I often talk about how it has changed our lives for the better. We encourage others to join the Air Force as well, simply because we know how much it has changed us. We want them to be able to have that experience as well. I can’t imagine my life without the Air Force in it.

I’m grateful, I’m thankful, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.