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Not too late to serve; why a single 38-year-old mother enlisted in the Air Force Reserve

Airman 1st Class Erin Zimpfer, 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, spends time with her children. Zimpfer started a new chapter in her life for herself and her children when she joined the Air Force right before the cut-off age of 39. (Courtesy photo)

Airman 1st Class Erin Zimpfer, 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, spends time with her children. Zimpfer started a new chapter in her life for herself and her children when she joined the Air Force right before the cut-off age of 39. (Courtesy photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

Nearly 16 months ago, a single mom raised her right hand and swore the oath of enlistment, solidifying a 20 year old dream to join the military, just 23 days before the birthday that would make joining impossible.

 

The Air Force is the only branch that allows enlistment up to your 39th birthday, the Army being the next closest with a maximum age of 35.

 

For me, it was the commitment, discipline and honor the military had always represented that made me want to join. But that was not the only pull into such a late career move. I also saw it as a quick way to receive valuable job skills in order to support myself and my family, while also being able to serve my country.

 

Being nearly 40 years old, my biggest concern was being able to pass the rigorous training of basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. However, participation in the development and training flight at the 445th Airlift Wing, made me, a future Airman, believe it was possible.

 

Tech. Sgt. Catherine Gamble is the NCO in-charge of the unit. Gamble communicates with the new recruits and provides opportunities for the service’s newest trainees to learn some of the Air Force ways. I strongly feel participation in the program for the six months before BMT greatly contributed to my success.

 

The entire process was less intimidating and overwhelming because of all that Sergeant Gamble did to prepare the trainees.

 

The development and training flight allows trainees to be exposed to military customs and courtesies, start to prepare for the Air Force fitness standards, and begin to learn some of the required training items like the Airman’s Creed, the Air Force Song and the core values of the Air Force.

 

Another useful part of the time in the 445th Development and Training Flight was the firsthand experience shared by recent BMT graduates who volunteered their time to come in to speak to the new recruits. I feel that hearing about BMT from someone who had just completed the training offered some peace of mind and encouragement.

 

Since joining, I have a whole new level of respect for those who wear the uniform. The training, dedication and fortitude of my fellow service members is exemplary.

 

Being an older person who was training alongside much younger comrades, I feel my age was more of an advantage than a handicap. Some of the younger women in my training flight at BMT were sensitive to the intensity of the training. I feel like I was able to take it in stride because I knew it was the military training instructor’s job to shape us into Airmen. For me personally, the most difficult part was limited communication with my kids.

 

Keeping my goals in mind, along with wanting to succeed for my kids helped me to push through the challenges. It has been quite an experience to go through all of my training. I have made lifelong friends and wonderful memories I will always carry with me.

 

I am very grateful for the opportunity. I am still waiting to see how it will pay off and what the future holds, but overall it has been a positive, life-changing experience that I would not change and I am proud to be a part of the world’s greatest Air Force.