Face of Defense: Airman Overcomes Setbacks to Complete Training
By Air Force Airman 1st Class Robert L. McIlrath
82nd Training Wing
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, March 7, 2014 Transforming from a civilian into today's fighting airman can entail many unimagined obstacles, but one airman in particular faced a series of obstacles head-on, neither faltering nor failing.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Tracy A. Guardado stands next to a training course for electrical systems apprentices Feb. 10, 2014, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Meares
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Tracy A. Guardado, a 366th Training Squadron electrical systems apprentice course graduate, wasn't deterred by hurdles that forced her to wash back in class on multiple occasions and almost got her sent home early.
Joining the Air Force wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision, Guardado said. It was something she wanted years before she packed up and left for basic training, she explained, but she postponed her plans to tend to family medical issues. "I wanted to join right out of high school, but my mother was sick, so I went to college instead so I could take care of her," she said.
No stranger to hard work, Guardado was a part-time police officer in New Jersey, a part-time volunteer police officer and a full-time inventory manager at a convenience store, all while attending classes at a local college. When her mother died, she said, she decided to join the Air Force Reserve. Guardado arrived here for technical training in June. Stepping off the bus, she met her military training leader for the first time, which would cement the foundation she would need in the upcoming months. Her MTL said she saw potential in the quiet young lady among the new airmen fresh out of basic training.
"I've been her MTL from the very beginning," said Air Force Staff Sgt. LaVanda Jennings, a 366th TRS staff member. "When Guardado first got here, she was very quiet -- very behind-the-scenes."
Air Force training squadrons award leadership ropes worn around the left shoulder of airmen who show potential leadership skills. Green ropes are awarded first to the newest selected leaders. After showing notable leadership skills, they are promoted to wearing a yellow rope, with the possibility of being awarded a red rope. There is only one red leadership rope per squadron.
Guardado wore a red rope.
"When Guardado became an airman leader, it brought her out her shell," Jennings said. "Becoming red rope was huge for her. I couldn't imagine having a better red rope."
Things were going well for Guardado until about halfway through her training, when she was injured while running.
"I rotated my pelvic bone, and I could barely walk," she said. "I couldn't climb the electrical pole."
Most Air Force bases are like cities within themselves. The electrical network is built and maintained by electrical systems apprentices.
"She never let her injury get her down," Jennings said. After her injury, Guardado attended several months of grueling physical therapy sessions, doing everything she could to get healthy. "I had to wait three months before I could start class again," she said.
Once she was walking normally again, Guardado started class, but she had another setback a short time later. In November, with a case of pneumonia put her on medical hold. She was washed back in training again, a waiting period many airmen describe as "limbo."
"When most airmen are in limbo, their care factor dissipates," Jennings said. "She had a very good attitude the whole time. Once she has made up her mind that she is going to do something, that's it. She does it."
After nearly a month of waiting to be healthy enough to start class, Guardano accomplished her goal. She graduated in February 2014 and pinned on her occupational badge.
Guardado said several factors that contributed to her recovery both times. She gained strength from the encouragement of her peers, and the journey would have been more difficult without the professionalism and dedication of her military training leader, she said.
"My peers and MTLs kept my spirits high when I was waiting to start back training," Guardado said. "Staff Sergeant Jennings was there to help me through mentally when I got hurt and got washed back, and again when I got sick."
Air Force Airman 1st Class Melinda L. Sachs, a 366th TRS electrical power production course student, was a roommate of Guardado's. For the few months they knew each other, Sachs said, she witnessed Guardado's dedication firsthand.
"She knows what she wants, and she gets it," Sachs said. "Knowing her has taught me to go after my goals as hard as I can, no matter how long it takes."
After eight months here, Guardado left the 366th TRS on her terms as a graduate.
"Leaving here and going back home is bittersweet," Guardado said. "I've learned so much about everything, and I've gotten to know everyone really well. Being here has shown me what I want to do with my life."
Guardado will join her Reserve unit, and she said she plans on resuming her job as a police officer. In the meantime, she added, she will be looking at the possibility of switching to the active duty Air Force.