Many service members join the military right after high school. For others, like Senior Airman Derrick Davis, it was different. It took him 10 years after high school to decide what he wanted to do with his life.
Davis, who was an only child, was born in California, but at the age of two moved with his mom to Lithonia, Georgia, after his parents divorced.
Just after he graduated from high school, at the age of 17, Davis held a string of odd jobs including work at a clothing store, front desk clerk at a hotel and a cook at a fast food chain.
"My parents tried to tell me that I should attend college, but I just didn't want to listen to them," said Davis. "I felt like I wanted to be on my own, work and do my own thing. That's because I was stubborn and was undecided about my future."
After three years, he found himself at Georgia Perimeter College, where he was an average student just as he had been in high school. He still continued to work any odd jobs that he could and it wasn't long before he was placed on academic probation.
He continued to work and returned to Perimeter after his academic probation ended and he did well enough to earn his Associates in Business Administration by the fall of 2008. Even then, he wasn't making enough money and found himself arguing about what to do with his life with the two people who loved him the most. Davis looks back now and realized that his parents were just trying to guide him.
Davis' parents were not the only one trying to guide him. His friend, Jordan, was too.
Jordan and Davis have been best friends since they were in second grade. When Jordan and Davis where in high school, they made a pact to join the military if they had not achieved their goals by 25. However, when Jordan was 21, he joined the Army.
"It's amazing how quickly time goes by and you're not where you want to be, but I realized that I wasn't going to get a redo," said Davis.
Jordan encouraged him to do something with his life by taking a look at what their other friends where doing that they had grown up with. This motivated Davis because he understood that he was just spinning his wheels. His best friend spoke to him of his life in the Army and the opportunities he had to travel.
Davis said that Jordan's conversation with him was convincing and he came to the realization that his dead-end jobs were going nowhere. He understood that he could have those same opportunities that Jordan had. So, at 27, realizing that it wasn't too late to accomplish something with his life, he joined the Air Force. The nice thing about it is that Davis is now serving his country like his parents before him.
"Both of my parents were in the U.S. Army. My mother served for six years as a Morse code translator and a postal clerk and my dad retired after 22 years in infantry and postal," said Davis. "When I told them that I decided to join the Air Force, they were happy for me. Probably happy that I finally made a decision that they could support. My dad said being in the military would be like a family and I would get opportunities that my civilian counterparts would never have."
Joining the Air Force has given Davis' life focus and provided him with a sense of belonging.
At the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, Davis is a customer service technician and cashier at finance. He ended up in the perfect career field, he said. He deals with money, numbers and people - for him, the trifecta - all things he enjoys doing.
"I answer pay-related questions, perform currency exchange and I'm a liaison between military members and their home stations," said Davis. "I interact with many people who are experiencing their first deployment as well. For many, it's their first time in another country. When I show them the local currency, to see their faces is priceless. I also enjoy explaining what the exchange rate is, so that they leave finance understanding it."
Davis, who deployed here for the first time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, said being here has allowed him the opportunity to learn more about his job. At Space Command he doesn't have the opportunity to deal with pilots due to the mission, so one thing that he has learned since he's been here is how to assist pilots and air crews with questions they may have.
"Senior Airman Davis has been a stand out performer at the 386th AEW. Since arriving at The Rock last fall, he has been gaining momentum as a phenomenal customer service technician," said Lt. Col. Ted Dewing, former comptroller 386th AEW.
Dewing describes Davis as "consistent with focused efforts in meeting the customer's needs and an Airman who is always recognized by thankful deployers for his dedication to duty." He feels that Davis has that winning combination because he's humble, service-focused and extremely patient with hundreds of members who need individual attention and timely assistance in their financial matters.
"You will not meet a more disarming and genuine Airman in our Air Force," said Dewing.
Like many Airmen who are deployed Davis arrived here with goals as to what he wanted to accomplish during his deployment.
"My goals were to lose 20-25 pounds, learn more about my job and save money," said Davis. "I have reached all of my goals."
Measuring five feet, nine inches, and weighing 176 pounds, the 31 year-old athletically built Airman continues to work out four to five days per week. Davis admitted that achieving his goals has not been easy, but has been extremely rewarding.
"I remain focused because it was challenging to achieve my goals," said Davis. "To be better at what I do is my motivation. I'm always setting new goals; big or small, short term or long term."
Davis said he found that what works for him is setting short-term goals to reach his long-term ones. Doing this helps him to stay motivated to achieve what he sets out to do.
"I have been fortunate enough to have past supervisors who were passionate, excited and knowledgeable about their job," he said. "That really rubbed off on me. They were great mentors. They explained exactly what they wanted, and taught me how to do it. This allowed me to get the mission accomplished. Leading by example is huge with me, and they did a great job."
With supervisors who have set a great example, Davis is well on the path to making the Air force his success story.
"Being older now and much more mature has helped me to make it through the Air Force," said Davis. "It has also allowed me to correct my mistakes and take initiative. I was able to experience the real world after high school, so I knew how tough life could be. Joining the Air Force is the best thing that has ever happened to me."
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This work, Finance Airman finally finds his path, by SMSgt Allison Day, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.