Foster kid overcomes adversity, becomes medical Airman, mother

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Collette Brooks
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

His heart beats louder than the ear-piercing sirens. Sheer panic overtakes his aching body as he fights to remain cool, calm and collected.

He struggles to find clarity as air slips in and out of his lungs with the overwhelming feeling of anguish intertwining with pure fear. With no warning, tears escape his eyes and collects around his shirt collar.

Foggy thoughts and fading vision prevails as he is strapped to a stretcher and lifted into an ambulance en route to the 35th Medical Group Urgent Care Center.

Straining his stiff neck upward, he instantly connects with a pair of honey-dipped hazel eyes saturated with glints of emerald green. He takes note of her swiftness and gentle words during this unforgettable moment in time.

Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Williams, a 35th Medical Support Squadron aerospace medical technician, reassures him with a powerful voice that is just as alluring as her confident  presence. "You're safe now and in good hands,"  she says while strapping a blood pressure band around his bruised and battered arms.

Those reassuring words from Williams put his once-heightened anxiety at bay. While his vital signs start to stabilize, he breathes a heavy sigh and a faint "thank you". 

Williams says this fictional depiction of a real-life scenario happens more often than not during her daily duties as a medical Airman; however, personal traumas throughout her life provided her the ability to respond to medical emergencies with grace, care and resiliency.

 At 18-months-old Child Protective Services removed Williams from her mother’s home and placed her in foster care due to negligence, abuse and child endangerment.

“My maternal grandfather was my first foster parent when I was a toddler," explained Williams. “Unfortunately, he, too, struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction like my mother, so being under his care was uncomfortable and pretty temporary." 

Due to the lack of stability and support from the various foster homes in which Williams was placed after being removed from her grandfather's home, Williams feared abandonment and neglect which manifested in her keeping a suitcase packed with her belongings on hand, so she would be ready for her next inevitable and impromptu move. 

Williams only found solace at the tender age of 11 by entering the work face and becoming something she had always dreamed to be: financially independent.

“I babysat the neighborhood kids, mowed lawns and painted fences to establish some sort of consistency in my life,” explained Williams.

While this new found avenue gave her the ability to increase her confidence and skillset, she could not say the same for school. The feeling of defeat washed over Williams after attending three different high schools in the span of four months. The constant change of homes became too overwhelming, resulting in her dropping out  her sophomore year.

“I was ready to simply settle on receiving my GED,” continued Williams. “After a few weeks of contemplating if I had made the right choice, I decided that earning my high school diploma was crucial for me to have a bright future I could actually be proud of. I started attending alternative school during the day and took college night classes for extra credit to make up for lost time. Although it was a struggle to apply of my effort and energy into school, the amount of pride I felt graduating alongside my original class could not be measured.”

This educational feat for 18-year-old Williams followed with an unforgettable, life-changing moment: signing herself out of foster care.

“That moment felt freeing yet scary because when you’re in the foster care system, you at least have somebody, even if it isn’t your somebody,” shared Williams as her voice cracked.

With her high school diploma in hand, Williams worked as a waitress while attending a medical assistant program at Everest College in Kent, Washington.

"My dream was to be a medical Airmen not a civilian one," Williams recalled. " After a decade of working in medicine, I took a leap of faith and started the process of enlisting, but that leap was met with a variety of obstacles."

Meeting the standards to enlist came with a multitude of challenging obstacles. A ten thousand dollars in credit card debt, a tattoo policy that Williams did not meet and being overweight temporarily stifled her enlistment progress.

“It felt like all the odds were against me,” Williams shared with a half-hearted smile dominating her face. “I dreamt of this opportunity to be an Airmen for forever, so an extra 50 pounds and financial debt were not going to stop me. I ate clean and worked out twice a day for nine months to lose the weight and started conserving money to pay off my debt. Once the tattoo policy was modified, I was good to go.”

On May 23, 2017, at 29-years-old and a mother of three, Williams headed to Lackland Air Force Base, TX, for the eight-week U.S. Air Force basic military training.

Williams said the Air Force not only provides a sense of family she has never experienced before but also a great deal of incomparable stability.

Prior to joining the service, Williams maintained a long-standing friendship with Myriam Caldwell, a 35th Force Support Squadron family care provider, who describes Williams as nothing short of amazing.

“Williams is a force to be reckoned with,” Caldwell said beaming. “She’s always been driven, but the Air Force gave her a platform to display her greatness."

Williams day-to-day work responsibilities consist of providing ambulance services to various medical emergencies ranging from a bad cold to severe trauma cases.

Although work is her primary focus, she takes care to remain involved in a multitude of extracurricular activities.

She serves as the Misawa First Four vice president, a Native American Heritage representative, the 35th MDG frontline president and Wild Weasel booster club member.

Even with a busy schedule, Williams still finds time to indulge in some of her favorite hobbies such as scenic photography, shooting guns at the range and sunbathing at the beach.

While she loves clearing her mind with various activities, nothing fills Williams with more joy than being an ideal role model for her children Kaiden, Kelvin and Kamren.

“Not only do these little people at home watch every thing you do, they also mimic those actions,” Williams explained. “I will sacrifice my free time, sleep and energy to perfect my craft of being the best Airman I can be in honor of my children.”

Despite enlisting when her three boys were at pivotal developmental ages, of five-years-old and one-year-old twins, Williams remains certain that enlisting in the military was the best decision for herself and her family.

“I missed out on my twins’ first words while I was in boot camp,” she said shifting to a more serious tone. “That’s a hard pill to swallow, but I find an insane amount of comfort in knowing my children won’t have to experience living off a can of a soup or being uncertain on where they will sleep, like I’ve experienced. I want them to endure different hardships like which college university they want to attend or which Christmas movie we should watch during the holidays."

The love and dedication Williams has for her boys is also felt by those around her.

“She is showing her boys you can be a fantastic parent while maintaining a demanding career,” expressed Caldwell. “I look up to her because she is  a model Airman and parent. She puts her children and Air Force needs before herself, which takes a pretty selfless person.”

Williams' service-before-self attitude is the driving factor that pushes her toward her ultimate goal. 

"With all my heart, I want to be a military training instructor,” Williams explained with pure delight coating each word. “There’s no other job in the military that allows you to affect the lives of every single enlisted member. I want to mentor people who have the goal of being a part of the world’s greatest Air Force. The Air Force has done so much for me, so I see this as a way of paying it forward."

From foster kid to Airman, Williams urges service members to believe in themselves.

“Growing up, I was constantly told I’d just be another 'lost cause' and a burden on society,” she continued. “I survived my rough upbringing because I made a choice to not internalize those discouraging comments. I always believed in myself, and I now challenge my fellow Airmen and peers to do the same.”