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RAF Mildenhall NCO’s journey from enlisted to officer

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ian Velez, 100th Communications Squadron NCO-in-charge of radio frequency transmissions, displays a second lieutenant’s bar at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 17, 2019. Velez earned his commission as an officer and will depart later this month to attend Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ian Velez, 100th Communications Squadron NCO-in-charge of radio frequency transmissions, displays a second lieutenant’s bar at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 17, 2019. Velez earned his commission as an officer and will depart later this month to attend Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

RAF MILDENHALL, England – --

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ian Velez, 100th Communications Squadron NCO-in-charge of radio frequency transmissions, is scheduled to attend Officer Training School and commission as a force support squadron officer later this year.

Velez’s path to OTS was not a quick one. He faced many obstacles while pursuing his goal of becoming an Air Force officer; nonetheless, he earned his commission with drive, patience and the ability to accept the guidance of a mentor.

Velez enlisted in the Air Force out of Hawaii after leaving college and working a series of retail jobs in which he saw no future. Since joining 11 years ago, he has been stationed at three bases and served under leaders, both enlisted and officer, who inspired him by their ability to create positive changes for the individuals they led. Although he knew that being enlisted didn’t prevent him from creating such an impact, he believed becoming an officer would give him the greatest access and opportunity to effect change.

Many difficulties laid in front of him on his path towards becoming an officer, and he displayed patience in realizing that he wouldn’t reach his goal overnight.

“As a new Airman, I wanted to commission, but I wasn’t deep enough into my degree to pursue OTS,” explained Velez. “Other options for commissioning like ROTC weren’t practical for me because I had two young kids. I accepted that it wasn’t the time for me. I knew it wasn’t going to happen immediately, but I never lost sight of my goal.”

Velez’s drive to persevere through obstacles also contributed to him earning his commission.  He continued in the face of setbacks that would have discouraged others.

“A lot happened along the way in my journey to OTS. Boards were canceled. I was ineligible for some boards due to PCSing,” stated Velez. “I was even a non-select last year. This one cut significantly deeper because of the effort that I put into it. The first package was an obsession, and I dedicated everything to it. It definitely took a lot of resilience to get back on the horse and to be like ‘round two, here we go.’”

After being rejected the first time, Velez went back to the drawing board and reworked his package. He articulated his strengths more clearly, made slight tweaks that made it easier for board members to review, and updated his application to reflect the new things he had accomplished.

“It’s kind of hard to portray sometimes, but I think I was able to capture my leadership experience better in my second package,” described Velez. “I was holding back in a way on the first one. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Part of what allowed Velez to make adjustments and improve was his ability to find a mentor who could help him through the process of applying.

“My guidance for Ian was a lot of experience sharing.  I had been in his shoes and wanted to provide all the knowledge on applying for and attending OTS as I could,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. James Baker, chief of Air Combat Command senior leader assignments at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. “Our interactions would range from a quick ‘How’s the application coming’ or ‘Want me to review anything?’ to lengthy chats on what to do for the next step.  Even while he was deployed, we continued to work via email to ensure he was progressing toward his goal.  He knew what he had to do to get where he wanted; my role was to aid and guide him where I could.”

It has been an almost four-year journey from when Velez committed to becoming an officer to when he learned of his selection. The patience and drive he displayed while working towards his goal and the guidance he received from a mentor along his journey helped him earn his commission. He will transition to the officer side later this year and into a new arena of opportunities at Hurlburt Field, Florida, his next duty station.

“I’m excited about the challenges. I don’t know what it’s going to be like until I’m on the other side,” Velez said. “The unknown is kind of what’s exciting to me. It’s a new adventure.”