From going nowhere fast: to overcoming the odds

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
As a high school student living in small town USA, he was going nowhere fast, and his family was struggling with several challenges of their own. 

With several failing grades and zero desire to do more than the bare minimum, he was far from being on a path to success; he admittedly had no plans and little ambition.  To top it all off, he was constantly bullied and extremely overweight at more than 300 pounds.

On June 28, 2012, news that could have easily been the straw to break the camel's back was added to the mix.

"It was really early in the morning, and I was working on a friend's farm helping feed cows," said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel Meyer, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron . "I got a call from my father demanding the presence of his children at 7 o'clock that evening at the house, no 'ifs, ands or buts.'"

When he arrived home, everything seemed normal. His mother was cooking, and his sister and brother were swapping jokes with their father. But once his mom joined them at the table, it didn't take long for things to get serious.

"My dad said, 'Well I bet you're wondering why I brought you out here tonight,'" Meyer said. "'I got some pretty bad news today ... You know how I went to the doctors earlier today because they thought I had a hernia? Well turns out it's not that. It's a lot worse. They say they it's stage four Lymphoma.'"

His siblings burst into tears while he sat in silence, still shocked.

"[They] began firing off questions left and right, asking about how much time he had left," Meyer said. "He said he didn't know, and that he was due for more tests later in the month. He showed us X-rays. It spanned most off his lower torso. Not really sure what to do, I walked outside and burst into tears myself."

Meyer said his father had always been his mentor, disciplinarian, friend, counselor and hero, and he had no idea what he was going to do without him. A few months later, on what he said was "a groggy Sunday morning," the answer came to him.

"It was around seven or so in the morning; the sun was just starting to peek above the top of the corn field," he said. "As I poured my coffee, my father asked how my morning was going, and I just grunted and shrugged my shoulders. He asked me to take a seat and speak with him a little bit before I got ready for work."

Looking him dead in the eyes, his father slid his report card across the table.

"He asked me point blank: 'What are you doing with your life, Daniel?'
"I told him I didn't really care about school ... That's when he leaned in closer to me, hugged me and burst into tears. He told me about how he felt like he was a failure of a parent ... He begged me to do something different with my life."

When Meyer was younger, he said he remembered his dad telling him about his time in the military.

"He asked me if I ever thought about joining the Air Force," Meyer said. "I told him I considered it, but with me being extremely overweight, I didn't see it as a possibility. As he cried into my shoulder, he told me to do it. Because it was the best decision he ever made, and he wanted to see me succeed in life. That's when I decided to get my act together and give it a shot."

The very next day, Meyer called a recruiter.

"I told him about my size, and he pretty much just laughed at me and acted like he didn't want anything to do with me," Meyer said. "He told me if I wanted to even be in consideration for enlistment that I would need to change myself drastically."

Second semester of his junior year, Meyer added a strength and conditioning class to his course list. He began working out three times a day, six days a week.

But, it wasn't long before he was hit with another speed bump.

"Money was getting tight around the house," Meyer said. "My mother owned a computer store, and she was struggling to pay bills and keep paying for medicine for my dad. So I told my mom I would be willing to drop out of school, work a job full time and give her the money to help things. She didn't want me to do that."

Luckily, he listened to his mom, and within 10 months, Meyer was down to 210 pounds and was ready to call the recruiter back.

"When I told him I had lost the weight, he said he didn't believe me," Meyer said. "My school counselor had to send in pictures. Nonetheless, the recruiter came to the school, and we did the preliminary paperwork."

The next step was going through the Military Entrance Processing Station. Unfortunately, the first try was not a success.

A mix-up with his height had him still over the weight standard.

"I was denied," Meyer said. "I felt like everything I worked for had fallen to pieces, but I didn't give up. I continued to lose weight. I was still determined to join."

Meyer's father passed away April 14, 2013.

"That day, I knew that no matter what, I had to keep my promise to him," he said. "During my senior year of high school, I stepped up my study habits and really focused on graduating. I graduated with a 3.2 GPA.  I took a few months to myself after graduating to just enjoy working and being with friends."

Meyer fulfilled his father's request and left for basic Jan. 13, 2015.

Meyer is one of the newest members of Team Offutt and has already made a lasting impression.

"Airman Meyer has a tremendous story, and I think it resonates with people because it is a version of the 'American Dream,'" said U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Williamson, 55th Wing vice commander.  "It is the mentality that shaped our country and the beliefs that define us today.  Airmen Meyer's story is an incredible testimony of what individuals can accomplish when they set their mind on a goal and will stop at nothing to achieve their desired objectives.  This mindset is a tribute to the relentless determination of all 55th Wing Airmen.

"He, as each of the Airmen before him, chose to serve for his own reason," Williamson continued. "He is an inspiration to us all, and like the men and women he serves with, determined to leave a legacy that honors our heritage."

And to Meyer, his legacy is what drives him.

"Everything that happened to me in high school and with my father has pushed me to become the best possible Airman I can," Meyer said. "It ultimately made me realize what I am capable of. Thanks to the Air Force, I now live a life most can only dream of.  Hopefully I can show people that even in the worst circumstances, good things can still happen."