My educational journey

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Jennifer Caulk
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate
My Air Force educational journey began 10 years ago when, at age 21, I wanted to marry a man with a heart condition.
After getting kicked out of my house, I quit school to work full-time. Quitting school forfeited my scholarship, which left me with no money for classes.

Neither of us had health insurance. The only way to protect us financially was to join the military, which offers health insurance to family members without any pre-existing condition clauses.

When I signed up, I told the MEPS personnel that I wanted a job with a large enlistment bonus. I chose the open electronics option and selected a career in ground radio maintenance.

When I joined, I had no idea of what to expect. I thought it was going to be similar to basic training for my whole career, and I didn't know how long I would be able to tolerate people barking mindless orders at me.

I was never an incredibly gifted technician, but I did my job to the best of my ability and made up for my weaknesses by being a well-rounded airman. I transformed all of my additional duties from barely functional entities to incredibly successful ones. They weren't the most impactful programs since I was only an airman 1st class, but I tried to make every program I touched better.

As soon as I finished my CDCs, I started taking classes in the local area, and decided to major in interior design. Later, my squadron commander recommended the Airman Education and Commissioning Program.

AECP is a fantastic program to help motivated enlisted members transition to officers in career fields in need. It offers free tuition to almost any reasonably priced university in the country plus basic allowance for housing, for living expenses. You also get to keep your active-duty status and health insurance. I decided to challenge myself and switched my major to electrical engineering.

I was accepted into AECP after three years at my first assignment. I spent my next three years working really hard at school. I lived basically as a civilian. I was administratively attached to an ROTC unit, but I didn't have to wear my uniform every day. During my last semester, I applied for a master's degree program at the Air Force Institute of Technology. A few months later, I was accepted to pursue a master's degree in digital engineering.

I spent a year and a half as a military student at AFIT. Writing my thesis was one of the most difficult endeavors I've ever accomplished and now I have a bound copy I am proud to say I wrote and published.

Looking back on my career is mind-boggling. I spent a decade in the Air Force, and of that time I have spent six years of it in school/training.

I graduated last year and I only have two more years of a service commitment left to the Air Force.

I went through some tough times throughout my career, and I have been able to count on my fellow airmen to help me out. My first marriage ended while I was at AFIT. I was able to make it through by utilizing free resources for active duty members, including reaching out to my fellow airmen.

Because we all experience those trials and tribulations together, we have a vested interest in each other. That's why I decided to remain in the Air Force even after I got a divorce and no longer needed the health insurance.

I had more opportunities than I ever dreamed of in the Air Force and it drove me to accomplish educational and career goals I didn't think I was capable of achieving. I've had many great leaders throughout the years and I'm thankful they pushed me to become the person I am today.