Formerly Homeless Veteran Alicia Watkins Now a Student at Harvard University

U.S. Veteran Alicia WatkinsAlicia Watkins is a retired Air Force staff sergeant who proudly served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She risked her life for the freedom of others, survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, and watched her colleagues die. But it wasn’t any of her combat experiences that broke Watkins’ spirit; it was the fact that she retired from the military and found herself homeless.

In 2010, Watkins’ allowed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to document her life as a homeless veteran. Her “kitchen” was a cardboard box of snacks and microwavable meals. Her bed was a car that she rented for $10 a day. Her restrooms were the toilets at various airport hotels.

Watch a clip from Watkins’ eye-opening video diary.

The 10-year veteran was struggling, but even during her low points, she believed that others were struggling more. At one point, Watkins did have housing, but she gave up her room to a homeless mother and her three kids.

“It might have been different had I not seen the children and the babies. So, I decided to be on the street and put them in the room,” Watkins told Oprah five years ago. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Since that emotional interview, a lot has changed for Watkins, who recently sent an update to “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” In the above video, she shares a surprising truth: Until her ‘Oprah Show’ interview aired, Watkins’ friends and family had no idea she was homeless.

“I had… alienated myself from everyone,” she admits now. “They really were shocked when they found out, and they were also just hurt by the fact that I was suffering.”

After the show, Watkins moved in with a family friend. Though she no longer lives in a car, Watkins says that her many health issues have prevented her from being able to work.

“I have traumatic brain injury, I have post-traumatic stress disorder, I have a spinal cord injury,” she says. “It’s a hard road. I would love to be able to work today. I have offers, I have people that are willing to help me, but they all have to take a backseat to my health. As much as I want to work, I have to acknowledge that I am a casualty of war.”

With a secure roof over her head, Watkins decided to focus on her education and began applying to colleges.

“I wanted to be able to care for wounded warriors, and so I decided to apply to Harvard University,” she says. “In 2012, I was accepted. My college expenses are paid by the G.I. Bill.”

Watkins’ says that her personal life has really turned around as well.

“I recently got engaged, on my birthday of all days,” she says, smiling. “It is amazing.”

“Oprah: Where Are They Now?” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.

article via huffingtonpost.com

Bronx Native Lt. Col Merryl Tengesdal Becomes 1st Black Female U-2 Pilot in History

Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal stands in front of a U-2 Feb. 9, 2015, at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Tengesdal is the only black female U-2 pilot in history. Tengesdal is the 9th Reconnaissance Wing inspector general and a U-2 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Bobby Cummings)

Lt. Col Merryl Tengesdal, a Bronx native, has become the first African-American female to ever pilot the U-2 — an ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft used for intelligence gathering and can fly up to altitudes of 70,000 feet.

According to an article by the United States Air Force, “As a child she imagined flying amongst the stars, thousands of miles above the earth’s surface, and today Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal is one of eight female pilots to ever fly the U-2 and the only black female pilot during the aircraft’s history.”

The article also goes on to say that she has been recommended for promotion to colonel as well.

“I have seen the curvature of the earth,” Tengesdal said. “I have seen sights most people will never see. Flying at more than 70,000 feet is really beautiful and peaceful. I enjoy the quiet, hearing myself breathing, and the hum of the engine. I never take it for granted.”

Aug. 1, 2015, will mark the 60th anniversary of the U-2; making it one of the few aircraft to operate in the U.S. Air Force for more than 50 years.  The U-2 first flew in 1955, in the same year the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and the Civil Rights Movement began, setting the stage for desegregation.

“The Air Force has always been on the forefront of breaking aviation and racial barriers,” Tengesdal said. “I am extremely proud of being the first black female U-2 pilot in history.”

The U-2 provides high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in direct support of national objectives. The aircraft enables the capture of imagery and delivers intelligence to decision makers worldwide.

These missions are often at altitudes equivalent to approximately 13 miles.  Pilots are required to wear full pressure suits during flight, similar to those astronauts wear. According to many aviation experts, limited visibility caused by the required helmets, along with the U-2’s bicycle landing gear, makes it arguably the most difficult aircraft to land.

“Every aircraft I’ve flown has something unique,” Tengesdal said. “The U-2 is no exception. I enjoy the challenge of landing on two wheels.”

Tengesdal is no stranger to challenges. The colonel acknowledged that during her childhood, there were many opportunities for her to stray down the wrong path.

“Drugs and alcohol were prevalent in my hometown, but I was influenced to pursue other aspirations,” she said.

With guidance from her mother and teachers, she excelled in high school, particularly in math and science. After high school, she attended the University of New Haven in Connecticut and graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. Afterward, she attended Officer Candidate School in the Navy, commissioned as an ensign in September 1994, and attended flight training shortly after.

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