MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., Oct. 31, 2017 —
Life's ups and downs often test people in ways that shake the foundations that give them peace. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaiah Randall's father was shot, his aunt died and his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. The rage, devastation and sorrow caused by family turmoil left him reeling. He looked for inner peace in his longtime passion, boxing, but a torn ligament left him staggering.
With nowhere to turn, Randall -- a 23rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance apprentice here -- came to understand the true concept of resilience, leaning on the support from his family, both by blood and by service, and turning to God to guide him through.
"I kept wondering what I had done to deserve all of this," he said. "Then I remembered a phrase from my childhood: 'God only gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers'." Amid the personal turmoil, he added, he learned for the first time that there was more to that phrase and that even the strongest soldiers need somewhere to lean.
The Philadelphia native had always been supportive of his family, carrying them through a world of drugs and violence. Although he may have left home to serve, he said, his role had not changed, and his family fled to him when tragedy struck.
Randall said his father was on the brink of death with seven bullet wounds. His family needed him, as they always had, but he was unsure how to respond. He tried praying, but he was losing faith and feeling like nothing could help him, he said.
Normally, Randall added, he would channel this anger and hopelessness into the boxing ring, a relief he has indulged in since he was 11 years old, and a passion he planned to later turn into a career. But two recent knee surgeries stripped him of this coping mechanism.
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As fast as his defense was taken away, he said, life continued to beat him down.
"Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, several calls from my mother woke me, and I knew right away that something was wrong," said Randall. "When I answered, she was crying hysterically and she said my aunt, my best friend growing up, had died. I lost it."
Without an escape, he said, he found a saving grace where he least expected: in his Air Force family.
"Randall was broken," said Air Force Master Sgt. Justin Archer, Randall's section chief. "When he came in he couldn't talk. He just sat here crying. None of us really knew what to say, so I just hugged him. He needed it. He was at a point where he needed a wingman, someone like a brother or father, to be there for him.
"I think that's when he learned how close-knit not only the Air Force family, but our maintenance family, is," Archer continued. "We have a very demanding job. We work a lot of long hours and we're put under a lot of pressure, but that builds a cohesiveness among all of us. We bicker and fight, but just like family, we will always have each other's back."
For the first time in his life, Randall leaned on others to support the weight that his circumstances were placing on him.
"When I went home, it was tempting for me to fall back into my old ways, but I didn't, and I owe that to my supervision," he said. "Any time my mind wandered and I came close to doing something I would regret, I got a message from one of my supervisors. Even if they just asked how my day was going, it was enough to screw my head on straight. I never would've expected that from them. A year ago, I looked at my leadership as just a lot of stripes on a uniform that gave me instructions every day. But today, they're part of my family, they helped save me."
With this new perspective of his Air Force family, Randall persevered through his aunt's funeral and returned standing strong. But alhough he thought he had been through all he could handle, he said, his battle grew tougher. His grandmother was diagnosed with a severe case of breast cancer and wasn't expected to live long.
"I hit my low and felt like giving up, but I knew no one was going to let me," he said. "I knew I had my family in my corner, and then my mom reminded me of one more support I had begun to lose sight of: God."
Through advice from his family and leadership, coupled with scriptures sent from his mother daily, Randall said, he made a breakthrough and changed his worldview.
"This past year has opened my eyes," he added. "Life is too short to be caught up in nonsense. You have to create a goal for yourself and spend every day working towards that goal until you achieve it. Life is too short to waste."
Living by his own advice, Randall set his eyes on his future. He took everything out of his room and hung a paper with three lines on it: God, family and boxing. He hung the paper above his bed so it would be the first thing he sees every morning, reminding him what it is he's working for.