By Senior Airman Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — When a young child has to share a room with their sibling and bunk beds are involved, there always seems to be a fight over who gets the top bunk. That’s a fight one Airman only wished he had growing up.
Airman 1st Class Patrick Enriquez, 21st Contracting Squadron, grew up with very little, struggled to find his next meal and ended up homeless. It took him reaching rock bottom before taking control of his life and turning it in a positive direction by joining the Air Force.
After his parents got divorced when he was just five years old, he lived in a small apartment with his mother. Until the age of 16, he slept on three feet of floor space between his mother’s bed and the wall, putting two blankets and a pillow down to sleep on each night.
“We didn’t have too much food in the fridge or the pantry,” Enriquez said. “I would try to hang out with my friends a little longer and hopefully catch dinner with them. I would get to sit at the dinner table with their family and a warm, home-cooked meal.”
After dealing with an unstable environment for 16 years, he decided to move out and get an apartment with his sister. He felt like life was finally under control, but hadn’t taken into account the cost of rent, food and other bills. To combat that, he and a friend had an idea to make some money.
In the cover of nightfall, they scoured an empty golf course after midnight to pick up lost golf balls, took them home to wash and take photos of to sell them on the internet. Several times a week — which made him fall asleep during school — for two years, that was how Enriquez made money for food and rent.
High school ended and he fell into the wrong crowd and made a few bad decisions. Some of his friends were in gangs and others into hard drugs, but Enriquez got himself a job — a boring, dead-end, but legitimate job. He worked in a tiny storeroom, putting sales tags on clothing for eight hours straight.
“I felt so unaccomplished,” he said. “I wondered if this was going to be the rest of my life. Is this what I was meant to do?”
Back at his apartment, still living with his sister, things weren’t going so well either. She told him he had made the wrong friends, was going nowhere in life and needed to change his life around. After an explosive argument, Enriquez was kicked out and had nowhere to go.
“They say when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up,” he said. “Rock bottom is definitely a hard, horrible place to be. My rock bottom was having a bed (in the back of my car) and having to sleep in that bed for two weeks. I would have to get in the fetal position just to fit.”
When Enriquez finally realized he hit rock bottom, he knew he needed to make a change to get out of the hole he was burying himself in. Walking around the mall one day, he and a friend passed by the recruitment center for the Armed Forces. They went in and he researched each branch of the military all day, ultimately deciding to join the Air Force. At basic training, Enriquez said it was a tough eight weeks, but not as tough as the life he had before.
“I had food, I had a place to sleep and I was making new friends, better friends than I had before,” he said.
After those long eight weeks being apart from his family, Enriquez stood still and silent, waiting for his family to reach him and touch his shoulder after the coining ceremony. His mom and sister were all smiles greeting him while his niece was literally jumping for joy.
Enriquez saw tears rolling down his father’s cheeks and made eye contact with him. The look of pride in his eyes made every second of those long eight weeks worth it.
“I never felt so accomplished in my life,” Enriquez said. “It was a real feeling knowing I overcame all those obstacles.”
After basic training, he came to Peterson for his first duty station. He went from sleeping in the back of his car to having his own dorm room on base, from eating Ramen noodles three times a week to having three square meals a day at the dining facility.
“Most importantly, I went from being lost and not knowing where I was going to having direction and having purpose in life,” he said.
He came a long way to get where he is today and said he learned a lot in the process. Enriquez said it’s important not to focus on what you cannot do, but rather what you can accomplish.
“The small steps you take today will turn into miles tomorrow,” he said.
(This is part one of a five part series highlighting Peterson Storytellers, an event that encourages Airmen to share stories of resiliency and emphasizes the importance of connecting with fellow service members.)