Transforming from a civilian into today's fighting Airman can entail many unimagined obstacles, but one Airman in particular faced a series of obstacles head-on, neither faltering or failing.
Airman 1st Class Tracy A. Guardado, a 366th Training Squadron electrical systems apprentice course graduate, wasn't deterred by the hurdles she faced, forcing her to wash back in class on multiple occasions and almost get sent home early.
Joining the Air Force wasn't a spur of the moment decision. It was something Guardado wanted years before she packed up and left for basic training, but she postponed her plans to tend to family medical issues. Being no stranger to hard work, she was a part-time police officer in New Jersey, part-time volunteer police officer, full time inventory manager at a convenience store, all while attending classes at a local college.
"I wanted to join right out of high school, but my mother was sick, so I went to college instead so I could take care of her," she said.
When her mother passed, she decided to join the Air Force Reserves. Guardado arrived at Sheppard for technical training June 2013. Stepping off the bus, she would meet her military training leader for the first time, which would cement the foundation she would need in the upcoming months. Her MTL saw potential in the quiet young lady among the file and ranks of new Airmen fresh out of basic training.
"I've been her MTL from the very beginning," said Staff Sgt. LaVanda Jennings, a 366th TRS staff member. "When Guardado first got here she was very quiet, very behind the scenes."
Training squadrons have programs to award leadership ropes worn around the left shoulder of Airmen who show potential leadership skills. As the hierarchy goes, green ropes are awarded first to the newest selected leaders. After showing notable leadership skills, they are promoted to wearing a yellow rope. After proving themselves to be the most exceptional leader in the squadron, the possibility of being awarded a red rope exists. There is only one red rope per squadron.
Guardado wore a red rope.
"When Guardado became an Airman leader, it brought her out her shell," Jennings said. "Becoming red rope was huge for her, I couldn't imagine having a better red rope."
A week after her arrival, Guardado was soaring through the hierarchy when she became a green rope. The following week, she became a yellow rope. Since most Airmen go the length of their technical training without getting a rope. This proved her leadership abilities and dedication from the start. As the lone red rope of her squadron, her responsibilities increased even more and she was in charge of leading hundreds of her fellow Airmen.
Training seemed to be going well until about halfway through when, while running, Guardado was injured.
"I rotated my pelvic bone and I could barely walk," Guardado said. "I couldn't climb the electrical pole."
Most Air Force bases are considered a city within themselves. The electrical network that exists is built and maintained by electrical systems apprentices. Guardado is responsible for the fundamental utility allowing the base the necessary electrical power to complete the mission.
"She never let her injury get her down," her MTL said.
After her injury, Guardado attended several months of grueling physical therapy sessions, doing everything she could to get healthy.
"I had to wait three months before I could start class again," Guardado said.
Walking normal again, Guardado started class, only to face another setback a short time after. In November she came down with pneumonia, which would lead to her being placed on medical hold and being washed back yet again. Airmen refer to this waiting period as "limbo."
"When most Airmen are in limbo, their care factor dissipates," Jennings said. "She had a very good attitude the whole time. Once she has made up her mind that she is going to do something, that's it, she does it."
After nearly one month of waiting to be healthy enough to start class, she accomplished her goal and pinned on the coveted occupational badge. She graduated February 2014.
Guardado doesn't take all the credit for her resiliency and thinks there were several factors that contributed to her recovery both times. She gained strength from the encouragement of her peers, but she knows the journey would have been a lot more difficult without the professionalism and dedication of her MTL.
"My peers and MTLs kept my spirits high when I was waiting to start back training," Guardado said. "Staff Sgt. Jennings was there to help me through mentally when I got hurt and got washed back and again when I got sick."
According to her leadership, Guardado was leading by example, whether she actually realized it or not, and was inspiring her fellow Airmen through her perseverance. Airman 1st Class Melinda L. Sachs, a 366th TRS electrical power production course student, was a roommate of Guardado's. For the few months they knew each other, Sachs witnessed Guardado's dedication firsthand.
"She knows what she wants and she gets it," Sachs said. "Knowing her has taught me to go after my goals as hard as I can, no matter how long it takes."
After being at Sheppard AFB for eight months, overcoming two injuries and fighting her way to graduation, Guardado left the 366th TRS on her terms as a graduate.
"Leaving here and going back home is bittersweet," Guardado said. "I've learned so much about everything and I've gotten to know everyone really well. Being here has shown me what I want to do with my life."
Guardado will join her Reserve unit and plans on resuming her job as a police officer. In the meantime she will be looking at the possibility of going active duty.