Life hasn’t always been easy for Senior Airman Zatavia Funchess, a defender assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing’s Security Forces Squadron at Duke Field, Florida. But the resilient young Reserve Citizen Airman has taken every punch life has thrown at her and overcome a host of major obstacles to fulfill her dream of serving in the Air Force Reserve.
Growing up in Panama City Beach, Florida, Funchess, her mother, stepfather and three siblings shuffled between a mix of hotels and friend’s houses as they searched for a place they could afford to stay. The circumstances the family lived in led to constant emotional turmoil, which boiled over when they were left homeless when Funchess was 17.
“I was mad,” she said. “I was lost and trying to figure out what my next step would be. I had to escape this cycle. I didn’t want to work multiple minimum wage jobs just so I could barely scrape by. I didn’t want to live like my family had for years.”
Searching for a better life, Funchess soon found out about the Air Force Reserve and decided to enlist. She was placed in the 919th SOW’s Development and Training Flight to help her get ready for basic military training.
The First Sergeant’s Council at the 919th SOW heard about her situation and raised money to help her buy clothes and a car and pay bills.
“She had lots of helpful wingmen at the 919th,” said Master Sgt. Sarah Alford, first sergeant for the 919th Security Forces Squadron. “Airmen would drive her to and from her civilian job when it rained before she got her car.”
Funchess worked hard to save up her money and was finally able to get her first apartment on October 5, 2018, five days before Hurricane Michael delivered a direct blow to Panama City as a category-five storm. With her apartment damaged and unlivable, Funchess was back on the street in search of somewhere to stay.
“I needed to ship out,” she said. “There was nothing left for me here.”
While waiting to start basic military training, she stayed with friends in both Alabama and Panama City. She overcame another obstacle when she crashed her car on the way to Alabama and had to get a ride back to her home state.
When she got to Duke Field to prepare to leave for BMT, a fellow Airman gave her a motivational speech and some money to use at the base exchange at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Funchess successfully made it through BMT and technical school while weathering a divorce and some medical problems. When she returned to Florida, she was still homeless and had to find a place to stay.
With some money in the bank she was able to save during training, she sat down with Alford and laid out a plan to secure an apartment and find a civilian job. She was able to achieve both of those goals within a month of her return.
Although she encountered many difficulties along the way, Funchess always figured out a way to make it work.
“She handles adversity really well,” Alford said. “She’s always trying to overcome and prove herself.”
Funchess now has her own car, an apartment in Pensacola and has been working on long-term orders at Hurlburt Field. #ReserveResilient
(Gentile is assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing public affairs office.) ■