Air Force gives family fresh start after COVID-19 crushes private business

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chance Babin
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, many small businesses were forced to shutter and countless families fell on hard times. For one family affected, the Air Force offered a way for them to start a new life together.

After years of working various jobs in the transportation industry, Richard Jimenez finally got the nerve to start his own trucking business in 2019. He thought 2020 was going to be an amazing year for his family. After the crushing loss of his business during the pandemic, Jimenez, his wife and their son all found their hopes and dreams shifting to something bigger — service in the Air Force.

“I finally got up enough courage and capital to start my own company and it was a great feeling. Finally, my independence,” Richard said. “I could now create my own schedule and spend more quality time with the family and live the life I dreamt was ours all along. I basically lived in my truck trying to make my company work like many drivers across America. But I thought if I worked hard enough, I knew 2020 was going to be the year I could get back to my family and create the American dream I’d been chasing all along.”

Then, one morning, Richard woke up and started making his usual phone calls, but no one was answering.

“Everything seemed like it just stopped overnight,” he said. “I checked the news and wow, they were talking about a plague. My heart dropped into my stomach.”

Richard came off the road and waited for some good news … but it never came. After hearing it would be a while before things would go back to normal, his wife, Jenna, asked him, “What are we going to do?”

“I knew in that moment, I had to be strong and figure this out,” Richard said. “Everything I worked so hard to obtain had been snatched from us seemingly overnight by an invisible enemy. All the schooling and tech certifications and years of driving different equipment to get to this point and now I had nothing. I knew I could never allow this to happen again. I needed something permanent, something sure – a foundation that could assure that my family would not have to suffer again financially. It was time to find a support system.”

Jenna struggled as well with how to pay the bills and how to be supportive for her husband.

“When the business closed, it was a huge blow, not only to our financial situation but to Richard personally,” she said. “I had to watch as all of Richard’s hard work was snatched from him instantaneously. It was hard. I was at a loss. I’ve never seen my husband not know what to do. Richard worked day in and day out to make sure we had everything we could ask for. He would work in the rain, the snow and all sorts of hazardous conditions to make sure his family was comfortable.”

As Jenna watched Richard grow more anxious and worried, she knew she needed to step up and do something.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “The military would be the way I could take responsibility and get this man off the road. If I could make it so he never has to worry about anything like this ever again, I would do everything in my power to do so.”

Before Jenna could tell Richard she was thinking of joining the military, he was settling on the same solution. While researching ways of surviving the pandemic on the internet, he found that most successful families have foundational members, like great grandparents, who had served in the military and created a path to success. A light bulb went off in his mind.

“Right before I could say the words, my wife says she thinks she could go to the military,” Richard said. “With an excited look on her face, she pitches the best plan ever. God is good. It would not only take me off the road, but I could potentially join and make a difference as well. I immediately felt a bit of hope rise up. This had to be it!”

With the idea of both joining the military, they began researching the different branches and talking to recruiters, including Tech. Sgt. Jeffry Stamm, an enlisted accessions recruiter with the 314th Recruiting Squadron in Hatboro.

“Jenna and Richard were looking for a fresh start,” Stamm said. “Jenna had been a homemaker for the past three years and was looking to start a career and continue her education. Richard always had an interest in serving his country and felt the time was right for a career change. After they both were preliminary qualified, I started to ask them some of their future goals and aspirations. It became clear that the Air Force would be better for them when it came down to the quality of life and educational goals they were both seeking.”

Stamm shared his family life experiences with Jenna and Richard. He also pulled up his travel records to show how many times he has been on temporary duty assignments and his leave and earnings statements to show how much he pays for healthcare and life insurance, how the Thrift Savings Plan works, and how much basic housing allowance and basic allowance for subsistence he receives monthly.

Jenna and Richard were sold on the benefits the Air Force has to offer and the job security it provides.

“The Air Force is something that is always going to be there. I think it might be the most reliable job there is,” Jenna said. “When the world stops on the drop of a dime, you don’t have to worry about being out of a job, paying your rent or putting food in your children’s mouths. Not only will you have support from your Air Force family and community in hard times but the Air Force itself. Not to mention, our family could also help people and be supportive for them. It just seems to be a perfect fit.”

One day when Richard and Jenna were visiting with Stamm, they happened to have their son, Amarion, a high school senior, with them. Stamm asked him about his plans.

“Amarion was supposed to graduate in May of 2020, but because of his vocational school and the specific hands-on training involved, the graduation requirements had to be delayed until August because of COVID(-19),” the recruiter said. “He was one of about 10,000 students affected. He was enrolled in a job-corps program through his high school in the automotive technology field. After hearing this, I explained some of the mechanical and electrical career fields the Air Force has, and the opportunities for Amarion to continue his education, get valuable job experience, and have medical and dental benefits as well as a retirement plan that would be tough to find in the civilian sector.”

Amarion was interested.

“While looking deeper into the military, I got to see that they will pay for my college and provide me with health insurance,” he said. “And once you’re in service, you will be part of a brotherhood that only the military can offer.”

Like his parents, Amarion decided to join.

“What made me join the greatest Air Force was my family, the communication and the quality of life I’ve seen so far,” he said. “Every single Airman I’ve spoken to has been honest and open with me. They didn’t make me any promises they couldn’t keep and they’ve given me respect.”

Richard said he is excited his son decided to join at such a young age so he can take advantage of the educational benefits, build a career and see the world.

“I am just so proud of him,” Richard said. “He will not only be given a real chance at an amazing life, but be given all kinds of opportunities that only the Air Force can provide. I am not only honored to be his dad, but I’m especially honored to be able to serve with him as an Airman in the United States Air Force.”

“As a mom, of course I want Amarion at the same base as us, to be able to see him and check up on him to make sure he is OK,” Jenna said. “But I also want him to have independence and learn and grow on his own. I want him to take advantage of being able to ship overseas, explore the world. He’s so young so he can go wherever for as long as he pleases. I’m excited for his future.”

Amarion and Jenna are extremely close since she and Richard were there for him following the loss of his biological mother.

“When my son lost his biological mother when he was 13, that was probably one of the hardest things I had to help Amarion overcome,” Richard said.

Amarion’s biological mom had an infection in her heart that spread to her brain.

“She left him in my custody while she tried to get herself well, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to get better,” Richard said. “That’s when Jenna really stepped up and provided him with the energy he needed at the time. As you can imagine, Amarion had a lot of hurt, confusion and questions at such a time. Jenna definitely stood in front of that with me and we all overcame it together as a team – all of us, the Jimenez family.”

While Richard was always there for his son, having Jenna step in and fill that void has lifted Amarion in his times of need and has created a bond that has made and kept this family close and operating as a team.

“Since my mother’s passing, Jenna has been there for me,” Amarion said. “She’s been there to pick me up when I’m down, she’s kept me strong when I felt weak and she cared for me when I felt broken.”

While there are three members of the Jimenez family ready to join the Air Force, there’s a fourth member who is not quite ready yet — Amarion’s 3-year-old sister, Layla. Since Jenna is scheduled to leave for basic military training first, Richard is set to take care of Layla and Amarion while she is away.

“We are excited about Jenna leaving first, especially since this was kind of her idea,” Richard said. “We are proud of her courage and willingness to go ahead of us. Amarion and I will be just fine with Layla, also known as ‘the boss.’ She’ll have us here while mommy becomes an Airman. Jenna is already a superhero to Layla, so this is just an upgrade for us.”

“Leaving Layla is going to be ridiculously difficult,” Jenna said. “She’s three and it’s been me and her forever. To leave her for a few months, let alone during the holidays, is gut wrenching. But the reason behind it is so much bigger than a Christmas. I may miss this Christmas, but with that sacrifice, we will never have to live the way we are right now ever again.”

Stamm said he was proud to help the Jimenez family join the Air Force and bounce back from the devastating blow COVID-19 delivered.

“For people who may have lost their jobs during the pandemic, or maybe just want a fresh start, the Air Force has great opportunities,” he said. “We offer guaranteed contracts for four or six years in more than 140 career fields. I also feel the job experience you get in the Air Force is one of the biggest benefits we have. The Air Force gives you the opportunity to obtain a degree in one of 71 degree programs through the Community College of the Air Force while gaining job experience which makes you marketable in the civilian sector.”

Richard may be one of the oldest people in his basic training flight, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“This is not just a story about a 37-year old joining the Air Force,” he said. “This is an example of perseverance even when the odds are stacked against you,” Richard said. “Statistically this shouldn’t be possible, but I refuse to accept defeat even in the face of the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years. I stand on all 10 toes and keep pushing forward. Our country is in need of strength. I am ready to serve. People ask, why did I give the Air Force a shot? Because I’ve always aimed high, so why stop now?”