From stripes to bars: One Airman's journey

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Spencer Gallien
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
During a commissioning ceremony at Valdosta State University's Hugh Bailey Science Center Auditorium, one Airman saw eight years of service and ambition culminate as she was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force by her first commanding officer.

During 2nd Lt. Keara Dombrowski's career, she spent six years as an enlisted Airmen and two more as a cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

In July 2006, as part of the Scholarships for Outstanding Airman to ROTC, the then staff sergeant separated from the Air Force and began work on her Bachelor's degree at Park University while attending ROTC at VSU.

The SOAR program allows enlisted personnel to separate from active duty and receive scholarships up to $15,000 per year to pursue a bachelor's degree and a commission through the Air Force ROTC.

The lieutenant's Air Force career began as a young Security Forces Airman assigned to the newly stood-up 822nd Security Forces Squadron, the first of the three squadrons making up the 820th Security Forces Group.

"Lieutenant Dombrowski, who was an Airman 1st Class at the time, came to the squadron directly from Technical School," said Col. Don Derry, who was the 822nd SFS commander at the time of her arrival. "She was extremely motivated, the type of security forces personnel that excels right away.

"She soon came to me with a desire for a commission," added Colonel Derry, who returned to Moody in April as the 820th SFG commander. "We began talking about different ways she could accomplish her goals."

Throughout the time Colonel Derry and Lieutenant Dombrowski spent together at the 822nd SFS, they had been on a total of two deployments together. Overall, Lieutenant Dombrowski deployed six times in her 6-year enlisted service.

In 2002 the colonel's time as commander of the 822nd SFS came to a close, but Lieutenant Dombrowski's dreams were as strong as ever.

In the summer of 2006 the lieutenant was accepted into the SOAR program and began her final two years of college while attending ROTC for her commission into the Air Force.

Even though Colonel Derry was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., during this time, the colonel and Lieutenant Dombrowski kept in touch via e-mail.

"It was during my time at MacDill that she asked me to be her commissioning officer into the Air Force," Colonel Derry said. "It was only fitting that I had a permanent change of station back to Moody to become the 820th SFG commander.

"I'm extremely proud of Lieutenant Dombrowski," he added. "She overcame many challenges, and finally accomplished what she had set forth to do."

During the ceremony, the lieutenant was given the opportunity to thank her mentor.

"I had the privilege to serve under Colonel Derry as a young Airman seven years ago with the 822nd SFS," she said. "To have him commission me is an honor. His leadership and example is what I aspire to reach in my career."

Lieutenant Dombrowski's next challenge may be her greatest. She will be heading to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., to become a communications officer.

"It's really just great to see a young Airman have a plan, stick to her plan, and accomplish her goals," said Colonel Derry. "Now she's able to do exactly what she's always wanted to do, become a leader."