Lawyer? State Trooper? How About 'Armament Specialist?'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J., Feb. 19, 2002 Betsy Diaz thought about being a lawyer, or maybe a state trooper. At the moment, she's not sure what she wants to be.
At age 20, that's not such a bad thing. Especially since Senior Airman Diaz is making the most of her time while she decides.
Two years ago, this Egg Harbor Township native joined the New Jersey Air National Guard to "try something different" and find a challenge.
"I wanted to make something of myself," she said. "I wanted to go to college and this was a way to pay for it. The Guard offers great benefits in that way."
Diaz chose to become an armament specialist, a field she found interesting. Assigned to the 177th Fighter Wing here, her job involves configuring fighter aircraft weapon systems and loading munitions.
At first, she served one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. Then she landed a civilian job as a National Guard technician. On Sept. 11, 2001, her status as a civilian employee and part-time guardsman changed to full- time active duty.
The 177th currently flies combat air patrols over New York City, on the lookout for bogies seven days a week. Just as the wing's mission changed on Sept. 11, Diaz's role intensified dramatically in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On that day, Diaz and her colleagues were waiting to arm the unit's F-16C fighter jets for routine missions.
"It was weird. Our jets were on their way out to the flight line and, all of a sudden, they turned around," she recalled. "They called us on the radio and told us we had to come in. Then they told us what happened."
What had started as a drill with practice bombs had become the real thing. "We had to reconfigure our aircraft," Diaz said. "We started putting on live missiles."
Everyone was in shock, she noted. People were excited. Things got hectic.
"I personally tried not to pay attention to it because I didn't want it to affect me while I was working," she said. "I just wanted to continue on my everyday mission. I didn't want to think about what actually happened."
The guardsmen quickly meshed into a team, she said. "It was amazing how everyone just got together and there was no one arguing. Everybody got straight, did what they had to do, and everything was set. We did it really fast and really smooth. It just went great."
Diaz said she was prepared to serve full-time, if needed. "I don't mind it at all," she said. "I love my job. This is what I enlisted to do."
"Everyone thinks, 'Oh, you're just a guardsman, you're never going to be doing anything,'" she said. "And that's true when it's one weekend a month. But now, it's the real deal, what we've been training to do every day. You sign the papers. You chose to do it. No one made you do it."
The Guard, she said, has given her a new perspective on world events and her role in life. "I'm only 20 years old and I can say, 'Wow! I did this. I did this for my country and not just for myself.' Not too many people my age can say that. I like the fact that I'm doing something with my life to help other people, not just me."
A recent incident at her church, she said, helped her appreciate how the military affects people's lives. A woman in the congregation commented that her daughters would never join the military since their religion dictates that women wear skirts at all times.
"She can say that," Diaz said, "but if it wasn't for the military, she wouldn't have freedom of religion."
Diaz said she plans to stay in the Guard because of the opportunities it offers. She noted that the military isn't as rigid as some people think. Being "flexible and patient" is key to success, she said, and compared to the other armed services, being in a guard unit has its benefits.
"You're close to home," she said. "It's just like having another job."