MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The Air Force Reserve is a combat-ready force that relies heavily on Airmen leaving active duty to fill its ranks. Prior-service Airmen are already trained and bring a tremendous amount of experience to their Reserve positions.
There are countless reasons for Airmen to make the switch from the active-duty Air Force to the Reserve. A trio of Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 927th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, recently shared their reasons for transitioning into the Reserve.
Capt. Kierstin Flores, an aircraft maintenance operations officer assigned to the 927th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, knew she wanted to be part of the Air Force from a young age.
After graduating high school early, she persuaded her parents to sign a waiver allowing her to enlist at 17 years old. Throughout her career, Flores has worked with numerous units in a variety of positions, experiencing the depth of the Total Force.
“All of my positions were great,” said Flores, reflecting on her experiences. “From pharmacy operations to cargo loading, passenger terminal and ultimately maintenance officer. I even joined the Army National Guard for two years as a transportation officer.”
After an initial eight years on active duty, Flores first entered the Reserve world as an individual mobilization augmentee to accelerate completion of her master’s degree. She went back on active duty for a three-year period at MacDill before landing in her current position as an Air Reserve Technician.
“There are so many challenges on active duty, especially for a single mother, that I decided to go back to the Reserve for the flexibility,” she said. “As an ART, we have very flexible hours. It allows me to spend more time with my child, advance my career and further my education.”
Having been part of the active-duty’s 6th Air Refueling Wing, Flores is familiar with the active-duty environment and uses her experiences to foster Total Force integration. Considering it to be a priority, she spends as much time as possible mentoring traditional Reservists and teaching them how to operate in a joint environment.
Tech. Sgt. Crystal Cash is a prior-service Airman who feels right at home as a boom operator with the 927th ARW’s 63rd Air Refueling Squadron.
Growing up in Dothan, Alabama, Cash sought to see more of the world than just her small Southern town. Her choice to join the Air Force was also sparked by a desire to grow personally through education. She landed on the boom operator job while looking through the Air Force Specialty Code listings at the Military Enlistment Processing Station.
“When I asked about in-flight refueling, they described it sort of vaguely,” Cash said. “When they said that two planes would meet to refuel in mid-air, I knew that was my number one choice. It seemed challenging, and it turned into a huge opportunity to experience the full scope of the Air Force.”
During her six years on active duty, Cash honed her skills as a boom operator with the 6th ARW. While on active duty, she achieved the rank of staff sergeant and faced a decision as her commitment neared the end. She had aspirations to quickly finish nursing school, and the active-duty lifestyle with its high operations tempo would mean delaying that. Cash found the answer in the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron.
“There was a definite shift when I joined the Reserve,” she said. “I had a lot more time to focus on my goals outside of the military. I finished my nursing degree and even started piloting civilian aircraft. Being a boom operator allows you to see and experience a lot, but being in control of the aircraft is incredible.”
With four deployments behind her, Cash, now a Reserve Citizen Airman, has promoted to the rank of technical sergeant, become an instructor for other boom operators, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor of science degree in nursing. Moving from one challenge to the next, Cash now has her sights set on commissioning and becoming a pilot.
Having a father who served in the Air Force made the decision to enlist simple for Tech. Sgt. Devin Hughes, a KC-135 crew chief assigned to the 927th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The plan was to enlist on active duty and transfer to the Reserve once he’d found the right time.
“Overall, I experienced a ton of growth,” Hughes said. “I had a blast at all of my assignments, and met a lot of great people, including my wife who I met in Spokane. Ultimately, the birth of my now two-year-old daughter was the moment I decided to transition off active duty.”
Spending 12 years on active duty, Hughes grew accustomed to life in the uniform.
“For me, it just seemed normal,” he said. “It’s not until I separated that I realized just how much being in the Air Force was part of my identity.”
Hughes spent the majority of his time in maintenance working on the KC-135 Stratotanker at Fairchild AFB, Washington. However, he did have the opportunity to work on the KC-46 Pegasus program in Seattle, and was granted a preference assignment to MacDill, where he finally transitioned to a traditional Reservist role at the 927th AMXS.
“As a traditional Reservist, you have so many benefits, including the chance to serve at the base you choose,” Hughes said. “I’m near where I grew up, get to spend plenty of time with my wife and daughter and work on my career as a real estate agent. It’s fast paced, and you have to be all-in to succeed.”
Serving in a part-time capacity fit into Hughes’ plans, granting him the freedom to pursue a challenging career after active duty while still maintaining connections to the people he’s worked with in the maintenance world.
“I would miss the camaraderie and just doing the job,” he said. “I enjoy drilling and spending time with people who’ve seen and done the same things.”
Airmen who come from active duty have invested countless hours developing their skills and come fully qualified in their AFSC. The Reserve force is able to recruit talent that otherwise may disappear as separating Airmen return to civilian life.
“Active-duty Airmen transitioning to the Air Force Reserve is essential to mission readiness,” said Master Sgt. Shane Hogan, an Air Force Reserve in-service recruiter. “These Airmen are fully trained and mission ready when they arrive. They’re able to provide a wealth of knowledge and train younger Airmen who serve in a part-time basis.” #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient
(Tipton is assigned to the 927th ARW public affairs office.) ■