Family, service, purpose

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alan Ricker
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

Hurricane Maria, a category five storm, struck Puerto Rico in 2017, displacing residents from their homes and disconnected towns from crucial resources.

“We spent months without water and months without power,” said Senior Airman Stephanie Hawthorne, 647th Logistics Readiness Squadron combat mobility flight journeyman, as she described her two-mile bike rides to get water.

She shared that a large tree fell, blocking access to her town. Her parents, former and retired U.S. Army soldiers, worked for days with their neighbor to remove the tree. After it was removed, the U.S. Army National Guard arrived, providing water and meals, ready to eat. Later, she explained that the Air National Guard provided generators.

“That’s when I saw the impact that the military can have,” said Hawthorne. “It ignited that passion of, ‘I really would like to be a part of that change.’”

The hurricane took place just before she graduated with a Bachelors of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. She would use that degree to pursue an engineering career with an aerospace company for two years before finally deciding to join the U.S. Air Force.

“I took a really hard look at my life,” said Hawthorne. “I said, ‘although I am an engineer, which is awesome, I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling a purpose.'”

She later enlisted in the Air Force on August 31, 2020, serving three years as a CMF team member, preparing cargo loads for airdrop operations.

After two years of being stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, she was encouraged by her flight commander to take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test.

“I did feel like I should just stay enlisted and not [apply for] OTS, because I was fearful of putting myself out there.”

Hawthorne passed the AFOQT, which increased her confidenceand led her to apply to be an officer in the U.S. Space Force. Since then, she has been selected to attend Officer Training School to be a project engineer officer.

“I [applied] for the Space Force instead of the Air Force because I’m also [working on] a master’s in space studies, and I have an intense desire to know more about satellite technology,” said Hawthorne.

She mentioned that she plans to serve a minimum of 20 years in the military and expressed even that might not be enough for her. She continues to find purpose in her journey of service.

“I know whatever I work towards, my heart and my mind will always be aimed towards improving and developing systems and processes for the Department of Defense and the Space Force,” explained Hawthorne.