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An Indian woman's journey into the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Maj. Anita Shade
  • 375th Dental Squadron
Growing up on Willingdon Island, nine degrees north of the equator along the shores of the Arabian Sea, I had the privilege of living childhood in paradise--warm ocean breezes, swaying coconut palms and wild monsoons. I spent my days chasing crabs, swimming, waving passing ships and letting my imagination run wild. I would stare hard into the horizon, wondering what magical adventures lay yonder.

One of my favorite pastimes was playing teacher.

I would drape a cloth over my shoulder to mimic a sari, which is a traditional Indian costume, arm myself with a ruler, and recite lessons to my students who consisted of four favorite teddy bears. Homework was so much more fun this way--an early discovery that is continuing to reap rewards.

Today, 40 years later and over 8,000 miles from India, I find myself playing the same role, only this time I wear the uniform of an American Airman, hold the stick over a dental residency program and train new graduates in the art of enabling rapid global mobility.

The thought continues to amaze me.

How could this be? At 23, I had graduated as a dentist and decided to leave India and spend a year in Doha, Qatar, where my father worked as a harbor pilot. The plan was to prepare myself for specialty training.

Little did I know, I was about to be hurled on a roller coaster for the wildest ride of my life.

In a few short months, I would leave everything familiar and arrive in San Diego, California, as the bride of an American sailor. It was a hasty decision; one I would soon regret.
The next decade was spent struggling to fight loneliness, abuse and poverty on one hand, and falling in love with my new surroundings on the other.

My Indian degree was invalid in America, so I worked odd jobs, eventually as a dental assistant at several practices. The owner of one practice took me under her wing and challenged me to work towards earning a U.S. dental license.

As I worked my way through dental school, I overheard a conversation about opportunities to work with the U.S. Air Force. I keyed in my interest on their website later on that night, a simple move that has brought me where I am today. It was hands down the best decision I have made.

My nine year military career has been nothing short of spectacular. It helped me blossom and grow through four years of specialty training, three assignments and an opportunity to see my childhood dream of teaching fulfilled.

Today, I am confident. I am empowered. I am proud. I am grateful, and I am humbled to serve arm in arm with my fellow Airmen in an Air Force where race, color or gender are not discriminated against, but where diversity is embraced and celebrated. I am excited about the future.

The sky is the limit. Aim High Airmen.