Airman 1st Class Sharon Dominguez never planned on a career in the military.
When she enlisted in the Delaware Air National Guard out of high school, the Hagerstown, Maryland native was simply looking for a way to cover her tuition at the University of Delaware.
“My whole plan from the beginning was school, school, school,” Dominguez, 21, says. ” I wanted a degree.”
She never expected, though, she’d be getting one from the prestigious United States Air Force Academy.
Dominguez and fellow Airman Luke McFadden will attend the Air Force Academy beginning in the fall. Ryan Weber, another Airman in the Delaware Air National Guard, has been accepted into the Air Force Preparatory School, a 10-month program that feeds enlistees into the Air Force Academy.
Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Air Force Academy is one of the nation’s highest-ranking and most-selective liberal arts colleges. It’s rare, says Guard spokesman Sgt. Benjamin Matwey, for one Airlift Wing of the National Guard to send even one Airman to the Air Force Academy in a given year. Sending three, he says, is almost unheard of, and the Delaware National Guard is checking with the Air Force Academy to see if it is indeed a record.
The Delaware National Guard has just one Airlift Wing, known as the 166th Airlift Wing. Larger states have several Airlift Wings.
Dominguez, McFadden, and Weber will head to Colorado through the LEAD program, which is designed to encourage airmen to attend Air Force. Entering classes at the academy consist of those with prior service, as well as traditional college students straight out of high school.
Dominguez fell in love with the military while at basic training in 2013. Disillusioned with the privileged mindset that permeated campus life, Dominguez found she related to the people in her unit “who knew they had to work hard for what they wanted.”
And Dominguez has always worked hard. While enrolled at UD, she simultaneously took a full course load, served in Delaware Air National Guard, waited tables at Buffalo Wild Wings, and was a member of the women’s rowing team.
She credits that drive to her parents, Colombian immigrants who arrived stateside in the early ’90s.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration. They’ve gone through so much. Any bit of willpower I get from them,” she says.
Dominguez hopes some day to become a pilot. Her vision, she says, isn’t good enough to fly fighter jets. She hopes instead to pilot the planes that take wounded soldiers from the war theater back to long-term treatment hospitals.
Dominguez racked up two years of college credits while at the University of Delaware. Those won’t transfer to the Air Force Academy, she says. Same goes for Ryan Weber, 20, who attended UD for a year.
They’ll both be starting fresh, on the exact same academic trajectory as students coming direct from high school.
“You have to start all over,” Dominguez says. “But I know it’s worth it.”