Commentary: Achieving personal and professional goals

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dennis Spain
  • 75th Medical Group

Editor’s Note: Senior Airman Dennis Spain, a bioenvironmental engineering technician in the 75th Medical Group and former Hill First 4 president, recently graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a master’s degree in public health.  He was asked to share his story of why he chose to seek a master’s degree.

With the impact our nation suffered as a result of COVID-19, I felt it was my duty as a military service member to go above and beyond my nation's call and empower myself to help those suffering from a lack of knowledge in the areas of infectious disease and positively impact communities that may need additional guidance to better mitigate the effects and outbreaks.  That is why I chose to pursue an advanced degree.

I was raised in Dallas Texas by a heroic single mom and influential grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. It ultimately helped shape the U.S. Air Force enlisted Airman I am today. I have been fortunate to witness the retirement of my grandfather, my father, and my uncle from the military, and whether they knew it or not, they were instilling in me a sense of legacy along with an unwavering responsibility to support and lead others along the way. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they decided to join the military. Mine can be summed up into one word: Legacy. It was the legacy set in place by my family that ultimately led me to enlist in the United States Air Force. The bifurcation between legacy and leadership is what brought me to the Air Force.

I can guarantee that every graduate at Southern New Hampshire University, regardless of their degree path, wants to leave a legacy that not only they can be proud of, but also one in which their family can be proud of as well.

My journey to achieving my master’s was filled with unexpected turns and emotions. Since I enlisted in the military in 2019, I have been fortunate enough to acquire my Community College of the Air Force degree, the remaining credits needed to obtain my bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences with a minor in clinical laboratory studies, and now a graduate degree. Although I have been blessed enough to have completed these three milestones within four years and three months of being in the Air Force it came with its level of sacrifice, determination, and motivation.   The late nights, long weekends and even working on school assignments amid my 2022 deployment coupled with the consistent support I received from my parents and grandparents is how I was able to accomplish such goals.

In the fall of 2021, I began the classes for my master's degree. In this same year, my mother was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma (cardiac amyloidosis). I was told shortly after my mother was diagnosed by her treating physician that my mother's life expectancy was six months or less. Despite her health setback, the one thing my mother told me to do was to stay focused on my studies and to stand out in every class that I entered. Shortly after her cancer diagnosis, my mother’s treating physician suggested and successfully enrolled her in a clinical trial. While I was fighting to be a top performer in my class my mother was fighting for her life with each chemotherapy appointment and clinical trial treatment. It is because of prayer and determination, that I am certain my mother is still with us to this day, two-plus years past diagnosis.

On another level, I feel it took prayer and determination for me to get through my MPH degree despite life’s obstacles, military deployments, and personal struggles. One of the pivotal actions I intentionally sought out after gaining my footing at Hill as a first-term airman was to locate a group of mentors that would help to push and guide me along my military pathway. My mentors over the past few years have been Colonel Carroll, former Air Base Wing commander, Lt. Col. Brewer, 75th Operational Medicine Readiness Squadron commander, and Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Riveria, first sergeant and former bioenvironmental engineering flight chief. I am a firm believer that the type of person you are and continually strive to be each day is a direct reflection of the individuals you put/allow into your inner circle.

Achieving this degree will open up advanced opportunities for me within the military as well as civilian-level responsibilities once I retire from the military. Opportunities that will allow me to reach populations in areas where a lack of education and resources are available to them. Being the only male in my family to have achieved a bachelor's and master's degree is life-changing in a way that I can tell my story to those who may not feel like they have what it takes to achieve the next task/goal or even strive to reach the top of the next mountain in front of them.

On my journey to obtaining my MPH, it was my mother and stepfather, my grandparents, and my two sisters who were my main source of support from beginning to end. It was their unfailing accountability that kept my goals and mindset intact when life had its way of throwing another obstacle to overcome my way.