The meaning of being a first term Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman Deborah Young
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
(Editor's Note: All members of each First Term Airman's Center class write a commentary entitled, "What it means to be a first term Airman." The FTAC instructors select the best commentary, and the writer receives the "Gunfighter Pride" award. The following is the most recent selection.)

Her name was Paige Renee Villers. She was fun-loving, full of life. She wanted to take on the world and wouldn't let anything get in her way. She was a good person that didn't always have the best of luck. She didn't always agree with her mother, and she was never a straight-A student. But she knew how to work hard and she was strong enough to overcome any obstacle or road block put in front of her.

High school graduation came and went, and unlike most of us who went off to college, Paige stayed in town and worked odd jobs to pay bills. After about a year, she decided she had enough of living paycheck to paycheck and started looking into a career in the Air Force. Through her research, she discovered what all it had to offer: great benefits, college assistance, travel, respect and most important, honor. Paige wanted to serve her country and prove to her family she could do more than just waitress - that she could be all that she could be. She signed up and left for basic training.

Trainee Villers struggled the first week of basic training, as all new trainees do, but she was determined to do well and worked as hard as she could even when her flight didn't. She loved the Air Force, even though she just started. The training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, were all she had experienced. Her goal was to get that Airman's Coin and march down the bomb run on graduation day. With every phone call home to her mother, she'd tell her how hard basic training was, but she always had something positive to say as well.

Third week came, and Trainee Villers started to catch a cold. But there was no way that was going to slow her down. Warrior Week, the major field training exercise, was just around the corner, and she was that much closer to her Airman's Coin.

During Warrior Week, the unexpected happened. Trainee Villers had caught the adenovirus. Once her flight got back from Warrior Week, she was sent to the Willford Hall Hospital at Lackland. There, Paige began a battle for her life. The adenovirus attacks a person's immune system, and hers was already weak from lack of sleep and a cold. At first, the question was if Paige would graduate on time. But after a turn for the worse, Paige slipped into a coma. The Villers family flew to Texas to be by her side. This time, Paige was lucky. She woke up from her coma about a week later, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Am I still in the Air Force?", "Am I still going to be an Airman?", and "Do I still get my Airman's Coin?"

That, to me, sums up everything about being an Airman. Not only was she fighting for her life, she was fighting for a chance at being in the Air Force and becoming an Airman.

The answer was yes. She was still in the Air Force. Once she heard the good news, it was like everything was fine and she went back to trying to recover. Her flight graduated, and even though she was weak, Paige was allowed to go out to the bomb run to receive her Airman's Coin. Airman Villers graduated from basic training in July 2007.

Shortly after her immune system went under another attack from the adenovirus.

On Aug. 7, 2007, she passed away.

Airman Paige Villers was a huge inspiration to me. Even though she never made it off Lackland Air Force Base, she knew what it meant to be an Airman. I know she would've succeeded in everything the Air Force had to offer. She was an amazing person who we all can learn a lot from.

For me at least, I learned a lot from Paige, and I know how much of an honor it is to be a first-term Airman. I've learned so much discipline and gained so much confidence in myself since I joined. Being a first-term Airman is such an amazing feeling. I am now part of the Air Force family - a tight-knit group of people who always watch out for each other and who are always there to lend a helping hand. When becoming an Airman, you not only gain the title, you also gain responsibility - not only for yourself, but for the mission, for your country and for every American citizen's well-being.

First-term Airmen also gain many opportunities. I gained the opportunity to travel, continue my education, have good benefits and meet people from all over the world. I plan on taking college classes as soon as I can, and I plan on competing for senior airman below the zone. I really want to do well in the Air Force, and I want to help the Air Force mission succeed. I truly believe joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It's given me a whole new sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in myself. It's given me so many experiences in such a short amount of time that I can't wait to see what is waiting around the corner for me. Looking back at everything I've done, there's one moment from technical school that stands out as a defining moment in my career so far.

I went to technical school at Fort Meade, Md. While there, we had a volunteer trip to assist veterans around Washington D.C. It was my first time there, and I was in uniform unloading wheel chairs when I felt someone tap my shoulder. I turned around to see an old Air Force major holding out his hand for mine. As I shook his hand, he said, "Thank you, young lady." I just smiled back and said, "Thank me? I haven't done anything yet, so thank you." He replied, "You signed the dotted line. You are here, you're serving your country and not everyone can say that. You've done a lot, so thank you." That right there was a moment I will never forget.

It was a moment I wish Paige could've had. It was a moment she deserved.

I have come to realize how much the military is appreciated and how much respect is given to those who serve. I now have an overwhelming sense of pride. Every Airman should take pride in what they do. They should also realize being an Airman is completely different than being a civilian. First-term Airmen and all Airmen in general are held to a high standard. One that embodies the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. I will strive to do my best in the Air Force, I will live by the core values, and I will always be thankful for every door the Air Force has opened.

That is what being a first-term Airman means. It means having courage, pride, responsibility, dedication, and a drive to do well - to make a difference. I am so proud to put on my uniform every day. I am proud to stand at attention and salute our flag. I am proud of everything I've accomplished so far in my career. I am proud to call myself a first-term Airman.