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Hope and perseverance: Airman overcomes obstacles on his way to service

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Young is a 509th Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Young faced many adversities growing up and worked hard to make his life a success, serving in the military and sharing a message of hope with Wingmen who are struggling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sadie Colbert)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Young is a 509th Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Young faced many adversities growing up and worked hard to make his life a success, serving in the military and sharing a message of hope with Wingmen who are struggling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sadie Colbert)

Senior Airman Eric Young stands next to Karen, his adoptive mother, after his Airman Leadership School graduation, Oct. 24, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Although she wasn't able to legally adopt Young, he still refers to her as his mother. Young is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician with the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron. (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Airman Eric Young stands next to Karen, his adoptive mother, after his Airman Leadership School graduation, Oct. 24, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Although she wasn't able to legally adopt Young, he still refers to her as his mother. Young is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician with the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron. (Courtesy Photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

Editor’s note: This article is a part of the “Whiteman Warrior” series. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story and contribution to the Air Force Global Strike “Striker” community.

It hadn’t been an easy journey for one 509th Civil Engineer Squadron service member to get to Airman Leadership School Class 19-G graduation.

Young, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician at Whiteman Air Force Base, fought adversity to join the Air Force and earn the rank of staff sergeant. It was a proud moment for the South Carolina native.

Young was given away to another family when he was a baby. While his adoptive mother was kind most days, his adoptive father caused feelings of terror in the child.

Young said when he was 14 years old, things violently escalated. Neighbors noticed the commotion and called the police. When the officers arrived, Young had been badly hurt and was removed from the house. After being removed from the home, he received unexpected news from the local authorities.

It turned out Young’s biological mother didn’t follow the legal adoption process. Without following proper protocol, he had been given to another family, growing up under a different name, without a trace of this change of status in the official records.

“[My adoptive parents] had told me I was adopted at the age of 12, but when the police were looking up my information and paperwork, none of my information pulled up,” Young recalled. “They ran DNA tests and that’s when they saw I wasn’t who I thought I was. They had been looking for me for a while because I was supposed to be in Department of Social Services’ care.”

 

Learning to let go

After being removed from the abusive home, Young transferred to the care of the Department of Social Services and lived in three different group homes until he turned 21. During these years, he again experienced additional emotional challenges...

“When I was 18 or 19, DSS found my mother and brought her in,” Young said. “When she came in the first time, I was so excited to meet her, but after five years of trying to start a relationship with her, I eventually recognized she was only interested in a relationship for selfish reasons.”

Despite this disappointment, Young wasn’t alone. He said he knew he had to learn to let go and leaned on his group home for support.

“That group home really impacted my life because they really cared,” Young said. “I started going to church again and they helped me graduate high school, get my driver’s license and start college.”

In addition, Young said he also achieved his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout – all thanks to Karen, his Scout leader who supported him throughout his years growing up.

“When I think of a ‘mom’—it’s Karen,” Young said. “She’s been such a big part of my life and she’s always been there for me. [She] helped make me who I am today. I’m thankful and blessed to have someone like her in my life, giving me hope.”

For a brief moment, pursuing his school and Scout curriculum, Young’s life was stable until he outgrew DSS and found himself searching, once again, for a new home and purpose in life.

Young decided to aim high, and set his sights on the United States Air Force.

 

From homeless to a home in the Air Force

 “Joining the Air Force was a faith-based decision and I wanted an opportunity to start a new life because I felt like I never had one,” Young said. “[The Military Entrance Processing Station] disqualified me the first time I attempted to enlist because my medical records showed I had childhood asthma.”

He needed time to process a waiver, so his DSS caretakers pointed him to the direction of Job Corps, an education and job training program for young adults, so he could get on his feet while waiting. After an anxious wait, Young finally received positive medical results showing he no longer had respiratory issues. Optimistically, he reapplied for the Air Force –only to get disqualified by MEPS once more –this time for coloboma, a rare eye condition affecting the structure of the eyes.

“I worked three jobs for about nine months, while fighting the coloboma issue and seeing several doctors to take many different eye exams,” he said. “I don’t even have to wear glasses. It’s a blessing because most people with this eye condition have side-effects. Their vision isn’t great or they’re completely blind.”

Again, Young didn’t give up. After visiting multiple specialists, he assured military entrance administrators that his vision was unaffected. Young graduated basic military training on his 23rd birthday.

“When graduation day came, I felt a sense of achievement, pride, excitement and nervousness for what my next military experience would be like,” Young said.

 

Hope: The reason he serves

After four and a half years in the Air Force, Young was able to share another proud moment with Karen, who not only stood by him during his toughest times – but also next to him during his Airman Leadership School graduation at Whiteman AFB.

“It has been a very emotional journey for me,” Karen said. “He was one of my Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. I can’t wait to see where his journey in life takes him and me. I have a saying: ‘Where he goes, I go.’”

Young said when he looks back at his life, seeing who he was and who he is now, he is thankful for the opportunities the Air Force gives him to this day.

“The Air Force helps give me purpose and that was something I wanted,” Young said. “No matter how big or small the task I’m doing, it’s impacting someone somewhere in the world. Every career field matters, even if a lot of times Airmen don’t see the direct mission impact. I’m thankful the Air Force has given me a life worth living.”

Editor’s note: Last names were omitted to safeguard privacy.