SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Born and raised a pure-blooded Texan and tempered by the smooth vocals of the second greatest boyband ever – NSYNC – Airman 1st Class Rachel Riley’s journey to be an American Airman is an adventure just a couple explosions short of a Michael Bay epic.
Cue opening shot.
Riley, a native from Arlington, Texas, loved softball. She said her passion for the sport would lead her to traveling from the U.S. to Austria where she coached a team for an Austrian league. Yet, she heard the call of the sweet summer breeze of Texas and she made her way back home, returning to her hometown to teach and coach at the high school she graduated from.
Something, though, was eating at her; something she has always thought about.
"Serving the military has always been in the back of my mind," Riley said. "Between collegiate softball and traveling, it just never seemed like the right time though. Then I was talking to one of my Marine buddies one day, who was also relatively new, and I was like, ‘man that sounds awesome, the opportunities and what not.’ I just looked up and realized ‘You know what, there’s never really a right time and if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it,’ and well here I am."
Riley now adds Air Force reservist to her personal résumé. She is a 366th Training Squadron electrical power productions apprentice scheduled to graduate Feb. 14.
"I don’t like feeling like I’m tied down, being able to come in and learn a skill set I could use in the civilian world. It’s kind of a win-win," She said. "I grew up working on cars with my dad. I love working with my hands and getting dirty. For the first four weeks I was the only female in the school house and that was interesting. But after spending seven weeks with 45 other women, it was also kind of nice. Overall, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It’s challenging – in a good way."
Riley and her natural leadership skills translated into the military really well, even being recognized by Col. Scott J. Belanger, 82nd Training Wing vice commander at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, for being a sharp Airman. She has found her way into multiple Airman leadership roles. Although she has been coaching and teaching people practically her whole adult life, the teacher has become the student since Sept. 19, 2017.
"It’s taught me a lot as far as coaching goes," Riley said. "Being surrounded by the leadership we have, it’s kind of nice to be back on the team, you know? As a coach, you’re on the outside looking in. Now being a part of the team, it’s a lot of fun. My softball girls, they have to listen to me. These people, they didn’t have to. So I was trying to figure out how do we connect, how do we get on a level of understanding and work together as a team."
Riley also said she has gained a lot of knowledge, be it from military training instructors and military training leaders to commanders at commander’s calls. She plans to bring all this newfound knowledge and people skills back to her work.
When she graduates she plans to jump right into the field once she’s back home and pick up where she left off before the military. Balancing her life as a coach, teacher and her new life as an Airman might appear tough, but it seemed to not affect the young woman.
"It’s been a bit tough adjusting the different lives. Trying to stay focused here, but still be involved back home. Both sides have been awesome to support what I’m doing though. Huge support group back home and here. I value being a part of something bigger than yourself."