By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The Community College of the Air Force granted Associate of Applied Science degrees to 84 new alumni during commencement ceremonies May 7 at the Falcon Club.
Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia, Jr., 10th Mission Support Squadron superintendent, gave the commencement address to the Airmen, many of whom worked on their degrees during deployments.
“You didn’t let war interfere with your goal,” he told them. “I am enormously proud of you.”
He asked the new graduates to consider the future and what they can do to motivate and inspire and lead Airmen.
“You have to have something they want,” he said, referring to leadership skills.
The Air Force is the only branch of the service with its own community college. Thirty-six years old, it is also the largest community college in the world with 308,000 degrees conferred, and it now offers 67 degree programs.
The Academy ranks number one in CCAF alumni per capita in the Air Force.
Tom Cavalli, president of the Lance Sijan Chapter of the Air Force Association presented its Pitsenbarger Awards to Staff Sgt. Richard Kaiser, 10th Security Forces Squadron, Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Jesus, 306th Operations Support Squadron, and Tech. Sgt. John Saller, Air Force ROTC with a grants toward future education.
The award recognizes Medal of Honor recipient Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger who was honored for treating and protecting scores of wounded Army infantrymen while under intense enemy fire near Saigon, Vietnam. He was mortally wounded in 1966.
“The heart of our efforts for Airmen is for them to continue their educations,” he said of the chapter.
He stressed all Airmen should take advantage of what the Air Force offers.
“When you walk out the door of the Air Force, be sure you have an education.”
Master Sgt. Keith Fields received a degree in health care management. He said he joined the Air Force to serve and to help people.
While not in direct patient care, health management is also crucial.
“It affects the hospital’s ability to care for its patients,” he said.
Sergeant Fields is also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the field.
Tech. Sgt. Andrea Blanchetti received her degree in criminal justice, an accomplishment that she sandwiched between deployments.
“It’s a relief,” she said with a smile.
She feels her concentration in homeland security
will serve her well.
“It is something I can incorporate into force protection,” she said.
Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams received his degree in surgical services technology.
He said he has been working on his education for 13 years at every base where he has been stationed, including while serving in Iraq. He also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice.
“You have to make time,” he said of others wanting to continue their education. You work toward it one class at a time. Just stick to it and use it as a stepping stone.”
In his closing remarks 10th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Jimmie McMillian praised the families, friends and co-workers of the new graduates.
“They know they couldn’t have done it without you,” he said.
To the graduates, he reminded them of the milestone they have achieved.
“Go back and inspire and motivate others to follow in your footsteps,” he said.