JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Ever since I returned to the 624th Regional Support Group, my reserve unit, from Officer Training School, I walk a little taller. When I glance in the mirror and see this bronze bar, I can’t help but smile.
As a newly minted lieutenant I often get asked, “So, what was OTS like? How was your experience?”
For a moment, I pause. How do you sum up nine weeks of your life in which you experience a roller coaster of emotions?
My immediate thoughts turn to waking up to reveille at 0400, which isn’t exactly easy without being heavily caffeinated.
And I am reminded of the anxiety felt when a military instructor yells from across the drill pad because you marched your flight into the grass.
Or, how I spent hours clipping strings from my uniforms – only for a rogue string to pop out of nowhere during inspection.
There is no doubt: Officer Training School will test your physical, mental and emotional limits.
But, I guess if I had to sum up the experience in one single lesson it would be this: To persevere.
The journey to OTS
As a prior-enlisted Airman, I joined the Air Force with the dream of becoming a public affairs officer.
However, due to timing, the needs of the Air Force and my own personal aspirations, I put this dream of mine on the backburner. It wasn’t until a maintenance officer in my unit learned of my journalism background and said, “You should really think about becoming an officer.”
His nudge helped reignite my dream. It took months to compile my package. I studied for weeks for the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. I requested recommendation letters from commanders and former professors, and I probably rewrote my personal statement five times. When I finally submitted my package six months later, I breathed a sigh of relief.
All I had to do was wait.
Two months later, a congratulatory email was sent out by the Wing commander. I eagerly scanned the email looking for my name. It wasn’t there. Discouraged, I put the dream on hold. Again. As a new noncommissioned officer, I focused on becoming a front-line supervisor, deploying and gaining proficiency in my Air Force Specialty Code.
Three years later, I decided to leave active duty so I could pursue my passion for journalism, but this time as a photojournalist in the Air Force Reserve. Again, I had a conversation with my superior about becoming an officer.
I decided to give it another try. My former mentor was excited to learn I wanted to pursue my goal and he helped me perfect my package. I told myself, “One more shot.”
A month later, my cell rang, I held in my breath and my heart skipped a beat.
“Sergeant Andom, I would like to congratulate you on being selected as a Public Affairs Officer.”
It was the call I had spent 10 years working, waiting and hoping for.
Pride, legacy, honor
As I reflect on my OTS journey, there is another memory that will forever be etched into my heart: graduation day. My mother, despite her mobility issues, spotted me across the parade field and quickened her pace.
Cradling a bouquet of white lilies and tears welling up in her eyes, she couldn’t utter a word, but her face said it all. Pride. Legacy. Honor.
It was the same look she gave me when I graduated with my bachelor’s, then later my master’s degree at the same university she mopped floors as a custodial worker. I am the daughter of Eritrean refugees who came to America with nothing. As a first-generation college graduate -- and now commissioned officer -- I am glad I persevered to accomplish my goal.
Yes, the OTS journey can be long, daunting, and sometimes discouraging. Go for it, express your interest to your leadership, find a mentor who can coach you through the process. I am grateful for those who encouraged me to apply and then re-apply. In the end, I am honored to have served as an enlisted Airman in the United States Air Force – and now I look forward to this new chapter as an officer.