Monday, April 30, 2018

Airman Fulfills Long-Held Dream of Military Service

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Katie Schultz, 149th Fighter Wing

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- After watching her school’s ROTC drill team perform during her freshman year of high school, Rosa Vittori decided she would join the Air Force.

Her dream was cut short, however, when she became pregnant at age 15.

“It was hard being pregnant in high school, and I just wanted to get out of there,” said Vittori, now an airman first class and a personnel specialist with the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing here. “I dropped out of ROTC, took senior classes, and finished in three years. After graduating, I felt like I couldn’t go join the Air Force because I had a young kid.”

Many years and two more children later, Vittori was set in a routine of working days as an office manager, going to night school and raising her daughters when a thought occurred to her.

“There came a point where I asked myself, ‘What are you doing with your life? What do you have to show for yourself?’” she said. “My sister-in-law told me about the Guard and said it might be a good option for me so I wouldn’t have to move my kids all around, but I could still serve.”


After hearing that advice, Vittori contacted a recruiter at the 149th Fighter Wing then took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, an aptitude test used to determine enlistment qualification for military service. Since it had been so many years since Vittori had seen the material being tested, she did not pass.

“After I failed, I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “It didn’t happen after high school, and it’s not happening now. I kind of got down about that, but I thought ‘Let’s just go ahead and do it again.’”

While balancing work and motherhood, she took the ASVAB again and passed, enlisting into the wing in 2016. She then completed her training as a personnel specialist and earned a technician position at the wing shortly thereafter.

“Serving in the Guard has given me so many more opportunities than I thought possible,” Vittori said. “I also feel like I’m setting a good example for my kids. My youngest and my middle one talk about joining the Air Force now, and honestly that’s the main goal -- to be a good role model for them. I want my kids to remember me for going after my dreams even though I had a hard start. That’s what I want to show them.”

Trying to be that positive role model is not always easy, she said.

“When I was at tech school, I missed two of my daughters’ birthdays,” Vittori said. “I also missed my oldest daughter’s cheerleading competitions, which was hard because we have a routine where I do her make-up and get her ready. But with me gone, she had to have other moms help her, so it was tough to know that she was alone on important days.”

‘It Gets Better’

According to Airman 1st Class Rubie Rodriguez, a close friend of Vittori and an aviation resource management specialist with the wing, challenges don’t keep her friend from her goals.

“She’s open-minded and has a positive outlook, even when she’s faced with obstacles,” Rodriguez said. “We always say, ‘It gets better.’ And whenever anyone else is going through a hard time, she will drop everything at a moment’s notice to be there whether you just need to vent or need an open ear. She’s an amazing friend and I’m happy to have her.”

Rodriguez said she periodically checks in on Vittori.

“Sometimes I call her in the morning as she’s going into work, either getting coffee or walking out the door, to see how she’s doing,” she said. “We keep each other accountable, and she can always count on her second family at the Guard.”

And even though it took her longer to start her military career, Vittori said she is glad she persevered and didn’t let fear of failure hold her back. She encourages others to do the same.
“I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the what-ifs and what could go wrong and they never think of what could go right,” she said. “You just have to do it. If you want to do something, you have to do it without thinking. Don’t think about the things you’re going to miss, because sacrifices have to be made in order to reach your dreams. But once you reach that dream, it brings out another side you never knew was there, and it’s worth it.”

Face of Defense: Late Sister’s Cancer Struggle Helps Soldier Persevere

By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Army Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the Army, you train to overcome challenges and adversity to complete your mission. But no amount of training can prepare you for certain personal hardships. That was the case for Army Maj. Yazmin Feliciano, whose 20-year career is rooted in triumph over fear.

“My father served in Vietnam and he didn’t like to talk about it,” she said. “So I was fearful at first, but I knew I wanted to serve my country and I was looking for a new adventure.”

Throughout her decorated career, the Puerto Rico native faced and overcame many obstacles, but none would prepare her for the heartbreak she endured in 2012 when her younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27.

“I saw everything that she went through with her treatment, and my sister smiled through all of it. She was just humble, sweet and kind to everyone through everything,” she said.


It was that experience that made Feliciano more aware of her own health. In February of last year, her vigilance led to a discovery that would change her life forever; a lump in her own breast.

“I know what fibroids feel like, but this was different. I knew it wasn’t normal,” she said.

When the results of her mammogram came back positive for breast cancer, Feliciano’s life began moving at lightning speed.

“I met my whole team -- the surgeon, the nutritionist, a social worker, oncologists,” she said. “[The timeline] from diagnosis to bilateral mastectomy was 21 days.”

When doctors removed both of her breasts, they told her that there was no evidence of disease anywhere else in her body. She could finally breathe a sigh of relief before beginning her long road to recovery.

She was placed in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where she says cadre and staff have been very supportive.

“It’s been a good experience. They’ve been so compassionate and empathetic,” Feliciano said.

But her biggest source of support came in a very small package -- her five year old daughter, Arianna.

“She was a godsend,” Feliciano said. “There were days where all I could do was take my medications and lay in bed. She was really gentle and she helped me however she could.”

Recovery, Loss

Within a few months, she was healing -- even finding herself able to run a half marathon. But Feliciano was unable to put the word “cancer” behind her for good.

Her younger sister -- whose health declined throughout 2017 -- passed away that November, leaving behind three children. Feliciano says the devastating loss cast a shadow on her own recovery.

“I’m happy that she’s no longer suffering,” she said. “Having to say goodbye was very difficult, but I try to take it one day at a time. If I allow myself to be consumed with the grief, it impacts my own recovery. It’s hard to separate her situation and my situation, so I have that inherent fear. But watching her made me a better fighter.”

Despite her sorrow, Feliciano continues to stand strong, knowing her sister’s spirit is still with her.

As she prepares for another surgery in the fall, Feliciano hopes that her perseverance can offer hope to others fighting the same battle.
“Enjoy the small victories, even if that’s just getting out of bed,” she said. “When you’re fighting for your life, you deserve those moments. Rejoice in them and use them as motivation.”