As seen in FUTURES Magazine
I just love the idea of being a superhero,” says Alejandra Cepeda, a New York City–based nursing student who serves part time as a firefighter in the Air National Guard.
“What I wanted to do since I was little was anything pertaining to helping people,” she says. Shortly after completing Air Force Basic Military Training, Alejandra found her calling by becoming the first female firefighter in her squadron’s history. She’s as proud of this as she is of the impact she’s had on others.
“It’s really fulfilling for me, knowing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life,” she says.
Whether she’s serving part time as a firefighter or studying to become a nurse, Alejandra enjoys being able to help others while serving close to home. “I like the closeness to home,” she says. “I like to be able to have a life with my close family, in addition to having this side of life where I am out and traveling with the Guard. It’s the best of both worlds.”
In a few years, when she finishes her nursing degree, she hopes to commission as an officer in the active-duty Air Force and become a flight nurse full time. This is a testament to the impact her part-time military service has had on her. With the skills she’s gained in her nursing classes and out in the field fighting fires, there’s no doubt she’ll find success in the coming years as she commits to serving her country full time.
You can be a pilot! You can be a pilot!”
That’s what Reily Finnelly wishes she could tell every young girl across the country. In a field dominated by men, in both the Military and the civilian
world, Reily’s part of a smaller pool of female pilots she hopes will continue to grow in the coming years. “People just don’t think that women can be pilots,” she says. “That’s the biggest misconception. In reality, anybody can do it.”
Reily comes from a long line of pilots. Two of her uncles fly for commercial airlines, just like her grandfather did before them. But it wasn’t until late in college that she decided to follow their lead, first by getting her civilian pilot license, and later when she decided to join the Air Force Reserve.
Now Reily has the opportunity to fly all over the world, including places like Hawaii, Germany, Japan and South Korea. “I operate the C-17 aircraft, and we are focused on air mobility: moving cargo and people, wherever they need to go throughout the world, safely and efficiently.” “Cargo” can be anything from vehicles and equipment to medical evacuation patients. The fact that she has the ability to travel all over never gets old. “I’ve had days
where I’ve woken up in Spain where it’s 85 degrees out,” Reily says, “and then flown to a place like Iceland where it’s 10 degrees. Being able to experience different cultures is definitely a rewarding part of the job.”
Reily likes to think she has the best of both worlds, being a pilot in the Reserve, traveling to all these amazing places, while still knowing she’ll always be able to call the Seattle area home. When she’s not airborne on one of her monthly training missions as part of the Reserve, you can usually find
her in the mountains of Washington with friends and family or putting in time at her local CrossFit gym. In the coming months, she plans to start flying for one of the major commercial airlines, so if you’re ever on a flight out of Seattle, be sure to take a peek and see if Reily’s in the cockpit.
“I want to get my hands in there and guide people the right way,” says Paige Herbst, Army National Guard cadet. While she’s a natural leader, she admits she had a little help. “I’d say that’s who I am, but more so, the Military definitely brought it out in me,” she says.
In high school, Paige participated in Junior ROTC and enjoyed it so much that she joined the Army National Guard after high school graduation. Now she balances college classes and being a varsity athlete at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, with serving part time. During her monthly drill weekends and annual training, she leads a platoon of 40 Soldiers in practice and by example. “I’m very positive around all my Soldiers and I strive to make everyone better, as well as myself, so that way I can learn and grow to be a better person,” Paige says.
During one particularly memorable training mission, her platoon hiked 25 miles a day, with Paige right there guiding them. One of her Soldiers thanked her for her hands-on leadership approach. “That was a proud internal moment,” she says. “I was out there with my Soldiers, getting dirty, getting things done, doing what we have to do to serve the state.”