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Gearing up for a successful military, personal career

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Grabiec
  • 182nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Changing roles from employee to military member to student is a lot to keep straight. Rushing from class to class, then off to work and adding in military service can be overwhelming, but rewarding for the type of person who likes to get the most out of life.

This is how Air Force Staff Sgt. Samantha Palacios, an aerospace propulsion specialist at the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, explains her path to finishing a degree in mechanical engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville while serving in the Air National Guard all at the same time.

“With that, you don’t ever really get a break, but you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I just kept going for it,” said Palacios. “The hardest part was always having three things going on at once. I enjoy being busy, so as long as I’m busy, I’m happy.”

Education is something that is very important to Palacios and although she already has one degree under her belt, she plans on earning more through a master’s degree in business administration as well as a professional engineering license in the near future through the assistance that is offered to Guard members through the Illinois National Guard Grant.

“When trying to earn your degree, there is some great help out here to help manage your GI bill and your benefits,” said Palacios. “You’re given these great benefits, you use them to the best of your ability. Don’t lose determination and keep moving forward. Keep the end point in mind and push through, and you can finish it one step at a time.”

Guard members are eligible for free college tuition at any Illinois state-supported school, and some are eligible for additional financial assistance. This allows many to focus on education and take off some of the financial burden that comes with pursuing a degree.

“It definitely helped me be comfortable knowing that I was getting a little bit of money every month to help with expenses and knowing that my tuition was going to be paid for. I knew I wasn’t going to come out with a whole lot of student loans, and that was a nice stress relief to have,” said Palacios.

It is that continual desire to learn that helps empower Palacios’ development and drives her to improve as a person. Pulling on skills learned through military service helps to make her a stronger student.

“Being part of the Guard and taking part in all of the training processes, like [basic training], forces you to get along and with the 50 other people you live with,” said Palacios. “Now I’m working on planes together with a team of people, and we have to understand each other and effectively communicate what we are, and I was able to go back and bring that into school. Working as a team definitely helps, and I think that came from getting the military comradery that I learned in the Guard.”

Being someone that is always looking for what the next step is, Palacios set the goal to commission as an officer and will be leaving for Officer Training School in early April.

“As a commissioned officer in the Guard, I hope to be someone that people can look up to as a good example and be able to help people in any way they need,” said Palacios. “I want to make sure that the Airmen underneath me can always reach out to me for help.”

As Palacios prepares to take off for OTS, she is keeping her philosophy on education and learning in mind. She said that she hopes to develop as a leader throughout the nine-and-a-half-week program and will draw on her degree as she transitions into her new role as a civil engineering officer.

“For me, there’s always something to learn and my whole goal is to continually learn and use that in my day-to-day,” said Palacios. “I can’t say that I use much thermal dynamics anymore, but the process of teamwork in my classes that require critical thinking applies to my everyday life. I think education is very important to keep moving on.”

Palacios said she plans to work tirelessly as a leader to help the Airmen and NCOs that are underneath her in any way that she can and will always encourage development as well as education.

“Don’t be scared to take the next step,” said Palacios. “If you are looking to go officer, talk to your recruiter to get your package set up and take the steps that you need to. Complete your school. I think it’s really important to finish your education.”