by Airman 1st Class Robert L. McIlrath
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
3/3/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- 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
sent home early. Joining the Air force wasn't a spur of the moment
decision. It was something she 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
"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 maintain by electrical
systems apprentice. Guardado is responsible for the fundamental
utility allowing the base to necessary electrical power to complete the
"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.
About two months later, 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 MTL's kept my spirits high when I was waiting to start
back training," Guardado said. "Staff Sergeant 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
After being at Sheppard 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.