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Through Airmen’s Eyes: Cadet candidate overcomes adversity, October 12, 2012

 

Cadet Candidate William Roe

By Amber Baillie
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

(This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Home has never been where 18-year old William Roe’s heart is.

A cadet candidate at the Academy’s Preparatory School, Roe hopes to one day be an officer in the Air Force and has found his key strength through his education to get where he is today: from being hungry and living out of his mother’s car at age six to being a step away from attending one of the most prestigious institutions in the nation, the Air Force Academy.

Originally from Robinson, Texas, Roe grew up in a low-income household amid continual drug abuse and hardship.

“Over the course of my life, my family hadn’t done a whole lot to contribute to society in a positive way,” Roe said. “My dad went to prison, my mom tried to overdose a handful of times, and my brothers got in a lot of trouble.”

When Roe was just an infant, his father manufactured methamphetamine in their home. The house was eventually raided, and his father was sent to jail, leaving Roe, his mother and siblings on their own.

“My mom had a really hard time supporting us,” Roe said. “I can remember times when she would put us in the car and tell us we were going somewhere, drive until we fell asleep and then we’d wake up in the car the next morning. I guess she just didn’t have the heart to tell us that we didn’t have anywhere to go.”

At age 12, Roe began work for a local landscaping company to help pay the family’s bills and set aside money for when he wanted to purchase things such as school pictures, yearbooks or field trips.

“I’m not going to say it was an enjoyable experience, but now that I’m older and not doing it anymore I’m pretty proud of it,” Roe said. “If I hadn’t gone through some of things I went through as a kid, I don’t think I would have the level of maturity and mental toughness that I have today.”

Roe said he doesn’t remember a time when his family wasn’t on food stamps, welfare or unemployment. He said there were several occasions where he and his brothers were separated from their mother and sent to live with distant relatives because they didn’t have a place to sleep.

By age 15, Roe decided to no longer live at home, often times sleeping in the locker room at his high school, staying with friends or sleeping in the car he purchased after working a full-time job for eight months.

“A lot of people when they think homeless, they think of standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign, and that wasn’t the situation at all,” Roe said. “I was always welcome to come home, but it wasn’t an environment where I could focus on my studies and not get into trouble.”

Roe’s brothers had all dropped out of school and became addicted to drugs.

“I saw my brothers get in trouble with drugs, dealing and fighting,” Roe said. “I love my brothers, but as I got older, I realized that I wanted to be better and didn’t want to follow in their footsteps.”

Roe said he didn’t always eat, especially the nights he slept in the locker room. He would skip dinner and wait until the next morning for his free breakfast at school.

“Kids would anonymously leave me food. I never felt bad accepting it because it’s nice to know whether you talk about your life or not, people are willing to look after you,” Roe said.

At age 16, Roe lived with his grandmother for a short period of time and faced further hardship when she was instantly killed in a car accident he witnessed on his way to her house.

“After the accident, I happened to be driving on the highway and recognized her truck,” Roe said. “Being the one who lived with her and being close to the accident, I had to inform everyone what had happened. It’s hard when you have to tell your mother that her mother had passed away over something so spontaneous.”

Despite not always having a home, food or family members who cared about him, Roe said he always looked toward the future and found motivation and support through individuals and activities at school.

“School was the one place I was really comfortable,” Roe said. “I had a great network of friends. I couldn’t imagine being in this position if I hadn’t gone to Robinson High School. The staff members went above and beyond to make sure I was successful and a lot of them gave me a place to stay.”

Roe was the vice president of his senior class, a leader in National Honor Society, and homecoming king. He volunteered regularly to help tutor kids.

“I made an effort to become best friends with the people that I wanted to model my life after,” Roe said. “I’ve aimed high in everything that I do so that one day, when I have my own family, I can provide for them and my kids will never have to go through the same things I went through.”

Roe also participated in sports: football, power-lifting, cross-country, track and soccer.

“I actually got recognized for doing the most sports in high school,” Roe said. “It was constructive, a huge stress reliever and helped me get my mind off my family.”

Upon high school graduation, Roe received a full-ride scholarship from Texas A&M as well as a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Scholar Foundation. Through the foundation, Roe took a trip to Washington, D.C., and met influential figures such as Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas and actor Rob Lowe.

“I was one of 104 selected from 50,000 applicants,” Roe said. “I met these incredible people and we had a formal induction ceremony inside the Supreme Court building. When the scholars walked down the aisle among all of these successful people who came from similar backgrounds as us and were successful, had respect for us and shook our hands when we walked passed them, that was the most incredible moment of my entire life. So far nothing has compared to that.”

Roe said he applied to the Academy because he appreciates the structure of the military and thinks he could use his leadership potential if he became a second lieutenant.

“The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to be a part of the Air Force,” Roe said. “I’m attracted to the wingman concept and appreciate that everyone is held to a higher standard and responsible for their actions. If they act out, they’ll be punished for it. I love that aspect.”

Although Roe wasn’t accepted into the Academy, he said he chose to spend a year at the Prep School because he knew he would receive solid preparation to lead men and women if he were to become an officer.

“There were thousands of people who competed just for a spot in the Prep School and only 240 people got in,” Roe said. “I wasn’t a recruit, my ACT scores weren’t very high but I got here on my ability to overcome adversity. I now have my own bed, get to shower every night and I don’t have to worry about my clothes not looking as nice as everyone else’s because we’re all in uniform. Every day I wake up and think about how awesome this opportunity is and I’m extremely grateful to be here.”

Roe came to Colorado Springs not knowing a single person until he stepped off the plane and was approached by a complete stranger at the airport.

“This woman approached me and started to ask me questions,” Roe said. “I didn’t want to tell her much because I didn’t know her but she proceeded to tell me that she was a sponsor for two cadets at the Academy.”

Roe said she offered him a place to stay for the night but he initially declined. He said it wasn’t until she mentioned what she was cooking for dinner that evening that made him change his mind.

“I was extremely hungry and I honestly knew I probably wouldn’t be able to eat that night because I didn’t have enough money,” Roe said. “I went home with her and the steak fajitas turned out to be terrific.”

It was then when Roe found his sponsor family: Col. Rob Widmann, retired Lt. Col. Ida Widmann and their two sons, Robert and Alex.

“Not only was I able to eat that night but I was blessed enough to have met her and now I have people who are willing to look out for me,” Roe said.

Roe plays on the Prep School’s soccer team and said as much as he would love to play for the Academy someday, only time will tell.

“I wanted to play soccer my whole life and can recall being seven, eight and nine years old asking if I could join the team and my parents would never let me,” Roe said. “That’s why I only played in high school. I would definitely like to join the track team at the Academy and would probably participate in long jump, high jump or triple jump.”

Roe said it will be the hardest yet most fantastic decision of his life when he is forced to choose whether to pursue the Academy or attend Texas A&M at the end of the year.

Photo: Cadet Candidate William Roe said he is determined to make it work at the Academy. “I’ve been given this great opportunity,” the Air Force Academy Preparatory School student said Oct. 3, 2012. “If I mess up, I have nothing.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Carol Lawrence)

Week in Photos, Sept. 28, 2012

 

AF Week in Photos Graphic

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin

We hope you enjoy this Week in Photos — Aim High. Fly-Fight-Win!

Photo: A U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft with the 107th Airlift Wing fires off flares during a night formation training mission. Flares are used to deter infrared homing (heat seeking) surface-to-air or air-to-air missile. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lloyd)

Toeing the line on standards, Sept. 28, 2012

 

Standards graphicBy Master Sgt. Edward A. Dierkens
30th Intelligence Squadron

For the past four years of my career, as a first sergeant, I have heard the words, “But Shirt, he’s a good guy,” far too many times.

Whether it was for a failed physical training test or substandard performance of noncommissioned officer responsibilities, the same statement would pop up time and again.

One would think these words would have been uttered by a young NCO, or maybe even a young officer; but more often than not, these words were coming from seasoned NCOs and senior NCOs as well as the occasional officer. Usually, the next phrase would be, “But we don’t want to hurt their career,” which is almost just as frustrating.

It’s all about the standards for 99 percent of what I have seen relating to commander-worked issues for the past four years. The one percent is usually the outlier, the very extreme situation where myriad things came together to form a perfect storm in which the service member could not prevent what was happening. However, the vast majority is the part that interests me most and how we hold service members accountable for their actions in accordance with the standards.

The first part of the problem is remembering the standards.

The Air Force asks its Airmen to be phenomenal, in accordance with AFI 36-2618, “The Enlisted Force Structure,” which states we are Airmen first, specialists second. There are times when Airmen forget this notion and think that all that is sacred is the mission, many times at the expense of other Airmen and their families. The half hour it takes to conduct a formal feedback, or the five minutes it takes to sit down and ask their subordinates how they are doing or how was your weekend is something often taken for granted. How do we hold supervisors accountable for not fulfilling their responsibilities as NCOs and senior NCOs? My blood pressure goes up a tick when I hear the words, “But he is a good Airman,” to which I rebut, “No, he is a good worker. If he were a good Airman, we would not be talking about what he did wrong but rather the great things he is doing.”

When do we say, “Now it’s time to hold you accountable”?

For some supervisors, the time to hold their Airmen accountable doesn’t come because they view it as hurting the Airman’s career. They do not acknowledge the corrosive effects it has on the Airmen who are doing everything right all the time, those Airmen who are “truly among the best,” as our performance reports reflect. This is a huge disservice to those that are getting it done every day. Not to mention, it’s not us who are hurting their career. Ultimately, it’s them. So how do you get someone to see the big picture? Sometimes getting people to realize that not everyone is a “5” takes some work.

In addition to job performance, another frequently worked issue is fitness.

Somewhere along the line, many supervisors seem to have forgotten physical fitness is a standard. AFI 36-2905, “Fitness Program,” states this fact as well as block three on all enlisted performance reports. The easy part of this standard is that the Air Force has taken all subjectivity out of it with the “Meets or Does Not Meet” options when the performance report closes out. The only problem with that is what do you do when there are one, two, or maybe even three failures in a twelve month period, then the member passes before an EPR closes out? How does that get documented? What exactly is the standard? Table A19.1, AFI 36-2905, has a guideline on what commanders could impose at each failure, but it is an illustrative table only, not binding.

Many discussions surface in which people think since block three on the performance report references fitness, it is, therefore, the only place where such ratings should be captured. In reality, the enlisted performance reports have several sections that should also be considered when dealing with fitness to include leadership, followership, mentorship and readiness. That being said, it would be very difficult to let fitness dwell in box three alone. Imagine for a moment that you are the young Airman, and your supervisor or mentor is the one not meeting the standard.

How would that make you feel?

Or imagine you’re the Airman who has to deploy on short notice because one of your peers has failed again and cannot deploy due to a control-roster action. Meanwhile, this Airman may be intent on passing his next assessment before his next performance report closes out knowing full well there won’t be any markdowns.

“But Shirt, it’s only PT,” doesn’t seem to fit, does it?

More often than not, a closed door mentorship session on holding our Airmen accountable for their actions across the unit is all it will take to get a supervisor to realize that a mark down is the right thing to do.

It’s not a career killer, the Airman can recover, and at this point and time they are not truly among the best.

Moreover, first sergeants are in the business of taking care of people, not just the ones getting in trouble, but the shiny pennies as well. Not giving a deserving member a markdown is disrespectful to the folks that are taking care of business every single day. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie cutter approach to how leadership at any level will handle any given situation, but if we cherish our Air Force standards and hold people accountable for their actions, everyone will be taken care of in the end.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force graphi by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)

Air Force core values should extend into our personal lives, Sept. 12, 2012

 

Air Force logo - white

By Lt. Col. Thomas J. O’Connell Jr.
4th Airlift Squadron commander

The Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do provide excellent guideposts on how to conduct our professional military lives. Because they are so closely associated with the Air Force, their application often stops there. In actuality, they are great guides for our personal lives as well.

This perceived limitation was highlighted to me a few weeks ago when I had the honor and privilege to address the Julius A. Kolb Airman Leadership School Class 12-F. During the discussion I used a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

The majority of those in the room were not only Airmen, but leaders of Airmen. My point was to challenge the recent graduates, who are now leaders of Airmen, to be good ones. The message was not unique; in fact it is encapsulated in our core value of excellence in all we do.

Afterward, I was approached by Airmen, civilians and retirees who said they really liked the “whatever you are, be a good one” part of the talk. In particular, one Airman who had recently separated from the Air Force was worried about how she would adjust to being a full-time mother.

She said Lincoln’s quote inspired her to be a better mom. Whereas before she was driven to be the best Airman she could be, now she would redirect that energy at being the best mother she could be.

The theme of excellence was obviously not new to her, but by discussing it in its earlier form by Lincoln, the message actually resonated with a larger audience.

While the opportunity to bring Lincoln’s words to the audience was rewarding, it highlighted to me that the core values concepts have become so closely associated with the Air Force that somehow people perceive them as a “military thing” when their usefulness is much wider.

So, if you’re an Airman, I encourage you to continue to live and internalize the core values. If you’re a retiree, a spouse or a civilian, I encourage you to do the same, but if Lincoln’s words have more resonance, then use them instead.

Whatever you are, be a good one!