DUKE FIELD, Fla. --
The glimmering towers of Panama City Beach, Florida illuminate the sky above streets filled with broken pines. Among the rubble of decaying buildings live the memories of Senior Airman Zatavia Funchess, 919th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron defender. The world moves on as cars zip past the remnants of old houses and a life once lived.
The mix of hotels and friend’s houses is where Funchess and her family called home as a child. She, her mother, step-father, and three siblings shuffled between places in search of somewhere they could afford to stay. The circumstance the family lived in led to constant emotional turmoil, which boiled over when Funchess was left homeless at 17.
“I was mad,” said Funchess. “I was lost and trying to figure out what my next step would be.”
Soon after, she joined the Air Force Reserve and was placed in the 919th Special Operations Wing’s Development and Training Flight to prepare for basic training.
“I had to escape this cycle,” said Funchess. “I didn’t want to work multiple minimum wage jobs just so I could barely scrape by. I didn’t want to live like my family had for years.”
The First Sergeant’s Council at the 919th SOW heard about her situation and raised money to help her buy clothes, a car, and pay bills.
“She had lots of helpful wingmen at the 919th SOW,” said Master Sgt. Sarah Alford, first sergeant for the 919th SOSFS. “Airmen would drive her to and from her civilian job when it rained before she got her car.”
Funchess fumbled between friend’s houses, beater cars and state programs until she had the money to get her first apartment on October 5th, 2018, five days prior to Hurricane Michael. The category-five storm made a direct hit on Panama City, decimating housing and leaving her apartment damaged and unlivable. Funchess was back on the street in search of somewhere to stay.
“I needed to ship out,” said Funchess. “There was nothing left for me here.”
She found friends in Alabama that she stayed with before she left for basic military training, but lost her car in a crash on the way there. Funchess ended up in Panama City again before leaving for training, where a wingman drove her to Duke Field. When she got to Duke Field to prepare to leave, another Airman gave her a motivational speech and some money to use at the Base Exchange while attending training at Lackland Air Force Base.
Funchess successfully made it through basic military training and technical school while weathering a divorce and medical problems. When she returned she was still homeless and had to find a place to stay. She sat down with Alford and set goals for her return to civilian life. One of those goals was to find an apartment and a job which was was able to do within a month of her return using money she saved from training. While she encountered many difficulties, she always figured out a way to make it work.
“She handles adversity really well,” said Alford. “She’s always trying to overcome and prove herself.”
Funchess now has her own car, an apartment in Pensacola, Florida and has been working on long-term orders at Hurlburt Field.