A Veteran's Career Unimagined
by U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
Master Sgt. Lisa Espinoza could not have
imagined the situations, opportunities, places she would travel and
people her career would bring to her life when she joined the Air
Force twenty years ago. Espinoza currently serves in the Alaska Air
National Guard, 168th Wing, and will soon retire.
Master Sgt. Lisa Espinoza of the 168th Wing serves as Command Support Staff for Wing headquarters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
- November 9, 2020)
“First week of technical school in the Air
Force after graduating basic training, we didn’t have a class
starting, and we were all in the day room and heard what had
happened, said Espinoza. “Sept. 11th happened.”
started her military career as a medical technician attending school
at Sheppard Air Force Base.
actually came in the Air Force with open general hoping for
medical,” said Espinoza. “At basic, they give you your Air Force
Specialty Code, your specific job, and the class before us — all
their open general got Security Forces.”
My first thoughts
were, I don’t know about Security Forces – I ended up marrying a
Security Forces guy.
“My decision to join with open general
ended up working out, and I became a medical technician – This is
what I was hoping for,” said Espinoza. “Now people tell you to make
sure you go in with a set job. I didn’t have anyone to tell me when
I enlisted. I had a couple of cousins in the military, and they were
way older and already serving.
Espinoza’s first duty
assignment was the hospital at Barksdale Air Force Base, where she
met her husband.
After serving five years there, she received
orders to RAF Menwith Hill in England, continuing her career as a
medical technician. She served as one of two 4Ns at a geographically
separated unit. This is where she started her immunization training.
From England, she was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base. In
2013 at Eielson, she received her SEI for allergy immunizations as a
specialty. She served with the active-duty medical until 2015, when
she decided to palace front into the Alaska Air National Guard.
She had served in active duty and transferred to the Guard as
Commander’s Support Staff at the end of her tour.
decision to go Guard was probably one of the most stressful
decisions,” said Espinoza. “In the active duty, you don’t really
hear about Guard. A Sergeant I worked with crossed over, and I
really started talking to her about it.”
Espinoza said it was
never an option, consideration, a second thought until the last
couple of years I was on active duty, so it was hard, but with a lot
of changes, it was very much needed.”
“Joining the Guard was
probably one of the best decisions besides joining the military that
I’ve made for my career,” said Espinoza.
In the beginning,
she was a drill status guardsman, and soon after, she applied to be
a full-time active guard and reserve member.
having to learn everything all over again,” said Espinoza. “I was
not only changing career fields and people – The Guard — what the
heck is going on — You mean to tell me there are different statuses
you can be on.”
Espinoza remembered this time in her career
and said, “It was exciting learning something new and revamping
yourself. The people in maintenance made it super easy, and they
were really understanding and helped me learn.”
served in the 168th Maintenance Group until 2020, when she became
the CSS for the 168th wing headquarters.
Once starting at the
wing, her career broadened again. “I felt a little more connected to
the mission being maintenance than at the wing, but at wing, I was
able to see the bigger picture,” said Espinoza. "You get to know our
leadership as people instead of just someone who works at
headquarters. It’s nice. You get to see the perspective on decisions
and why things are done the way there are.”
As she reflected
on her career, people were at the forefront of her thoughts. “Twenty
years have gone by so quickly; of course, there are things you would
change, but I have met so many wonderful people.”
the military and away from your family, these people are your
family,” said Espinoza. “Any base you go to, you are always going to
have that bond and that connection. Everyone is in a similar
situation. You don’t really know what the military goes through
unless you are in the military. Regardless of who you meet or branch
of service, you know you hold a connection with them because they
have gone through experiences and stuff you have gone through that
you don’t necessarily have with someone who is a civilian.”
Espinoza said, “That’s going to be the hard part not having that
connection and that bond with people every day, but I’m excited
about the next chapter.”
Espinoza will soon retire after
serving for twenty years. She was the first and only woman in her
family to join the military.
“I don’t think my family truly
understands or knows what I do essentially,” said Espinoza. “I know
they know I’m in the military, but they don’t really understand it
all. I just know that they are proud of me.”
They would like
me closer, so it does suck that we have been so far away for so
long. They know all the opportunities that it has given us and the
things I have been able to do to help them out as well. They are
grateful for that.
She recalls the day she decided to join
and was inspired by the recruiter who came to talk to their school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t necessarily set
myself up for college. That wasn’t something instilled in me – OK,
you need to make sure your grades are perfect and start taking SATs
and ACTs and getting scholarships. My mom was a single mom, so I
knew she wasn’t going to be able to afford to send me to college. I
didn’t realize how soon you had to start thinking about college.”
I knew if I stayed in El Paso, I would probably start working
but probably not have a career.
“So the recruiters were at my
high school, and I was like, you know what, I’m just going to join,”
said Espinoza. “I went home and talked to my mom and made a decision
I’m just going to join I’m going to sign-up. My mom was all for it.
It was kind of like a crash decision.”
Espinoza enlisted in March
of that year with the delayed enlistment program and left for basic
in July after graduating in June.
“I don’t really have this
super I went to go serve my country speech,” said Espinoza. “It
sounded like a good deal – honestly. I like to travel, and
essentially it would pay for my schooling.”
I didn’t have
plans when they came – You are saying stuff that I like. Now I’m
retiring at 39 – who retires at 39.
There are a lot of
memories over the years for Espinoza.
“I’ve only been in the
guard six years,” said Espinoza. “When I look back, this is what I’m
going to look back at the most. The people are what have helped to
get me to where I’m at. People here, especially at the 168th,
generally want to see you succeed and will do anything in their
power to help you.”
Espinoza said, “I like helping people. I
like the trust you build with your patients and customers. Which is
weird – I’m not necessarily a people person.
My whole career
has essentially been customer service – In medical, your patients
are your customers, and CSS is customer service.
Espinoza looks back at her career, she remembers being a Senior
Airman in England. “Because there were only a few of us at the small
location, we learned a lot and helped each other.”
reflects on what the military has provided her.
Military has given me opportunities that I probably would have never
had – It helped me grow. You look at things differently,” said
Espinoza. “I have lived in places I would have never lived and seen
places that I would have never been able to. It has given me
stability- even being able to help my family back home financially.”
She said the military gives you skill sets that you probably
don’t get anywhere else.
“Not necessarily skill sets for your
job but broader skill sets. People and getting to work with people
from everywhere and ethnicities and that diversity that you get. If
I had stayed at home, I wouldn’t have gotten that.”
professionalism that you get. – There are so many different things
you can take away from being in the military.”
“In the end, it makes you a better person – it makes you an
all-around person. The skills I’ll be able to take with me anywhere
I go – whatever job I do in the future — even if it is going to
school or being a stay-at-home mom. It is all stuff that is
Espinoza shared advice for future generations.
“Nobody will care about your career as much as you do. Set yourself
up for what-ifs. If you set yourself up and an opportunity comes,
and you are already set up, it won’t just pass you by.
are so many times where you see someone say ‘nobody told me.’ and I
believe you should take full reins of your career. You shouldn’t
expect someone else to do that.”
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