Si se puede: be the representation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristal Munguia
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The stories of individuals breaking barriers and forging their paths are testaments to the nation’s diverse and inclusive spirit. One such narrative is my own as a Mexican-American, ascending through the ranks of the Air Force and becoming the first in my family to do so, hoping to shine as a beacon of inspiration, resilience, and cultural pride.

The decision to join the military was not easy as I faced a roadblock in my career, wallowing in self-doubt along with the doubts and fears of family members.

After becoming the first in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree, I wanted to continue to make my family proud. However, I found myself struggling to secure a job and the weight of familial expectations bore down heavily. Looking for a solution, the Air Force gave me financial stability while serving my country and breaking new ground for my family.

However, this decision bore heavily on me, and I couldn’t shake the nagging uncertainty that I might not be mentally nor physically prepared for the challenges ahead. The pride in wearing the uniform along with the sense of purpose were undeniable, yet the demanding expectations gnawed at my confidence.

Although there was some pride in my decision, a few family members expressed uncertainty about my physical and mental ability to overcome the challenges I would be tested on. Others expressed their concern for my safety, particularly after hearing the headlines about U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen and her tragic story.

However, hearing their doubts about my ability gave me the strength and determination to prove to them and myself that I do have what it takes to be an American Airman. While Guillen’s story is tragic and serves as a reminder of the importance of accountability within the military, I assured my family that I would remain vigilant. Now having served for over two and a half years, I witnessed the steps the Air Force has taken in addressing the issues brought up from the tragedy and prioritizing the safety and well-being of their members.

During my time in the armed forces, I have grown as an Airman and as a person. I proved to myself that I have the mental and physical capability to pass basic military training. After BMT, I spent the next six months at my technical school, Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. On graduation day I learned I was one of the honor graduates in my class.

Returning to my hometown, Fullerton, California, after completing my military training, I was overwhelmed with shock and emotion as I walked through the door to a bustling surprise welcome home party. The sight of their gathering to show their support and pride left me speechless. As the first to join the Air Force and the first female to join the military in my family, their pride and joy were palpable in their heartfelt words and embraces.

I then arrived at my first duty station, Creech Air Force Base, and worked on my personal and professional growth. My efforts were acknowledged with my selection for Airmen Below the Zone, a special recognition program that awards the Airmen with a promotion ahead of their promotion timeline for their exceptional performance, leadership qualities, personal conduct, and potential for further growth. Because of this, I was eligible to test in the 2023 staff sergeant cycle. To my utter shock, I was one of the 9,000 selected out of the 51,717 who tested.

If asked if I could go back in time, would I still choose to enlist? Yes. In a heartbeat. I once thought that I was going nowhere in my life but now I see my career success and hope to commission as an officer one day.

For those experiencing self-doubts and or being discouraged by those around you–persevere. You might surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.