Airman finds her strength through powerful choice

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Crystal Charriere
  • 419th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's been one year since I was stranded on the side of the highway with a dead-end job and no money for school or gas. As I sat in my car, waiting for my ride to show up, I realized I wasn't going anywhere, and it wasn't only because my gas tank was empty.

I pictured myself as a stronger person when I graduated high school, but I was dependent on my parents, my friends and my job, which was just a job, not a career.

One of my high school teachers would start class each day by writing a quote on the white board. Among those quotes, Ralph Waldo Emerson's words stayed with me: "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself."

To live up to that quote I had to change. I wanted to become someone I would admire instead of someone I pitied. I needed to toughen up and find my purpose.

After searching for a way to revolutionize myself, I found the Air Force Reserve and realized it would give me all the tools I needed to become a better version of myself. I'd be educated, gain skills and experiences I never could have on my own, and I'd have the opportunity to serve my country. That was a career I could take pride in.

I left for Basic Military Training in May. Military boot camp was something I never thought I could do, and never wanted to do. But there I was on a plane to Lackland Air Force Base for nine weeks of push-ups, cleaning M16s, and marching -- the first steps to transforming into a more empowered individual.

On the first night in training one girl cried. After seeing her, I decided I wouldn't cry, and I never did. Some people need to cry to grow stronger, but I felt it wouldn't change anything or even make me feel better. To me, crying meant I wasn't trying hard enough. I was there to strengthen myself.

My Military Training Instructor, Staff Sgt. Mathew Oleson, helped me do that. I'll never forget what he did for me. During those nine weeks while he was yelling at us, marching us around the base and training us, he instilled the greatest sense of pride and dignity in me. He expected nothing less than perfection.

I only screwed up once, but when I did, Sgt. Oleson made the entire flight do push-ups. That sucked, but it wasn't what affected me most. He said that I had embarrassed him. Those words played over and over in my head all night, and I almost cried. Almost.

Then one afternoon before chow I was taking my M16 apart, and the sergeant saw me. As he walked down the aisle to his office he muttered, "Charriere's a killer." I grinned from ear to ear. I like to think that in those brief seconds I made him proud. That was always my goal in BMT. I wanted my instructor to be proud to have me as his trainee. I wanted him to stand in front of me on graduation day, hand me my Airman's coin and really mean it when he said, "Congratulations, Airman."

In July I became an Airman in the United States Air Force and was no longer the girl stranded on the side of the highway with no career and no direction. It's as if I unlocked part of myself that was lying dormant my entire life. I achieved something I didn't think I was strong enough to do.

It's been a year now, and I'm closer to the person I want to be than ever before. I have my own apartment. I'm back in school, and I'm an assistant photo editor in my civilian job. I have an awesome public affairs career with the Air Force Reserve, and I'm fortunate enough to be serving my country for the next six years, and I'm on the road to becoming who I want to be. I will never regret my decision.