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Airman Spotlight: Walking the third path

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Noah J. Tancer
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Only about one percent of U.S. citizens are serving in the military. At the same time, many high school graduates leave school believing they have two possible paths: Either join the work force or go to college. A handful of them may throw a spare thought down the third path and inquire with a Department of Defense recruiter, but fewer follow through and join.

For those who do, it can change their lives in ways they never imagined. Senior Airman Gabriella Waple, a lab technician assigned to the 910th Medical Squadron, is a testament to that fact.

“I joined the Reserve in high school, May of my senior year,” said Waple. “Before that, I was planning on going to the University of North Carolina, I was offered a full-ride scholarship to play volleyball, but I wanted to do engineering and volleyball at the same time and I just knew myself. I was not mature enough to do that whatsoever. So I figured okay, I'm just going to turn it down, more options will pop up. But as soon as I turned it down I went into a panic. I had no idea what I was going to do. And so I have four older sisters and I talked to them. I said, ‘Guys, I need help, like what do I do with my life?’”

Some of her sisters recommended taking a year off and seeing where it goes. But the second youngest sister, a Soldier in the Army National Guard, suggested looking into joining the military. Her sister's one stipulation was not joining the Army.

“So she set me up with an Air Force recruiter, and I instantly fell in love, honestly,” said Waple. “It just seemed like really cool, and everybody that I met through the recruiter’s office, they all seemed amazing and super nice and I felt like everybody was telling me a lot of good information. So I did it, I enlisted.”

During the enlistment process, Waple intended to pick a job like the career path she wanted to pursue in college, but the military path has a way of broadening horizons.

“I honestly did not want medical at all. I went in planning for engineering and my recruiter said there wasn't anything available at the time,” said Waple. “So he brought up my job (lab technician), and some other random jobs, and he said ‘this is probably one of the longest tech schools in the Air Force but you can do it.’ So I said alright, let's do it. So that's how I got into the medical field.”

If a particular Air Force Reserve job is not available to a person at the time they’re looking to enlist, that doesn’t mean the door is completely shut. They can consider a job at a different installation, wait until the position opens up or, like Waple, take a chance on expanding horizons with something different.

“I really do like my job,” said Waple. “It's definitely very interesting to see everything behind the scenes. Growing up I thought nurses do everything with the blood. I didn't realize that lab was a job. We test everything and we give out blood to the nurses to give to patients. So it's definitely an eye-opener to the career field and the medical field.”

Waple left for basic military training in January 2019 and returned from technical school in May 2020. The Air Force’s basic military training is eight-and-a-half weeks. Waple’s tech school was 13 months long and began in San Antonio, Texas. She did classroom work for four months and then went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for the last nine months for hands-on training.

“So definitely a very long tech school to say the least,” said Waple. “But it was very cool being there while COVID was going on. I was able to finish my tech school two months early, which a lot of people aren't able to do. And once I finished my tech school, they closed down one of the pharmacies on base and they needed people to run out prescriptions to people in their cars. So I volunteered and we did that for about a day or two. So that was definitely very, very cool to be a part of and be able to change that many lives in such a short amount of time.”

Waple helped run out more than 500 prescriptions in two days. She also made COVID file transport media, her team’s work contributing to more than 2000 in about a week. The media were sent to the children's hospital in Dayton and other Air Force bases nationwide and were also used at WPAFB.

“So my future in the military, I'm honestly not totally sure,” said Waple. “I don't know if I want to stay in for the full twenty or what I'm going to do, but all four of us in the lab are deploying this June, and once I get back I plan on going to school for physical therapy, so that'll definitely be really cool. After that, I'm not totally sure if I want a commission or what my plan is, but I just know that no matter what I do in the Air Force and civilian wise I just want to help out as many people as I can.”

Wherever her career leads, Waple is sure about one thing: She wants to serve others.