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Determined to make a better life

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Jauregui, Air Force Space Command enlisted aid to the deputy commander, poses for a photo at the 21st Space Wing portrait studio at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, June 20, 2018. Jauregui made a life decision in 2008 to separate herself from Crip gang activity and joined the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robb Lingley

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- Growing up in Gilroy, California, she had everything a girl could wish for: money, designer clothes and so much more. Shortly after high school graduation, her father took everything from her and kicked her to the streets.

Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Jauregui, Air Force Space Command enlisted aide to the deputy commander, was determined to make her life right but struggled to get there. She talked about her past to fellow Airmen during Storytellers at The Club on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 30, 2018.

“Growing up in Gilroy was a place where everybody knew each other,” said Jauregui. “The way I was raised my dad gave me everything I wanted. I was the girl who spent up to $3,000 on myself every month.”

Although it seemed that everything was perfect on the outside, her home life was not great.

“My dad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for which he didn’t take his medication and he was an alcoholic,” said Jauregui. “When he came home we wouldn’t know what kind of mood he would be in and he would just trash the house. The next day he would leave a $1,000 check on the table to replace what he broke.”

Jauregui became tired of depending on her father and his money. When she was close to graduating high school he told her he wasn’t going to pay for her college.

“I decided that since I wasn’t going to college I would join the Air Force,” said Jauregui.

Two weeks before her high school graduation, she was in a car accident and injured her back. The injury was serious enough for her that she wasn’t able to enlist in the Air Force right away because she was on pain medications.

A week after she graduated high school, her father kicked her out of the house and completely cut her off.

“I could only take with me what I paid for with my own money,” said Jauregui.

Jauregui bounced around living with various friends until she settled in with her cousin and his wife. For a while things went well. Her cousin gave her a car and she had a job. The problem was her cousins were Crip gang members.

For Jauregui their gang affiliation didn’t bother her because for the first time in years she felt like she was a part of a family. She was close with her cousins and their friends and having fun. Because of this she actually wanted to be more involved with the gang.

Two of Jauregui’s cousins sat her down and explained to her that if she joined the gang there would be only two ways out of the gang: death or prison.

“My cousins wouldn’t let me become a gang member,” Jauregui said. “They told me I was young, had a clean slate, and they didn’t want that life for me because I had so much potential.”

Her cousins gave her money and kicked her out of the house. She ended up moving in with her boyfriend. After a while he quit his job and they were living off her $12.99 an hour salary. To help make ends meet they sold all of their furniture, leaving them with just a mattress.

“All we could afford to buy was ramen and frozen burritos,” said Jauregui. “We couldn’t even afford toiletries. My boyfriend and I had to share a bar of soap, which was disgusting.”

Jauregui’s low point came when she couldn’t afford to buy soap to bathe with. She took a bottle of laundry detergent from the laundry room of her apartment. She and her boyfriend used that to wash themselves.

They weren’t be able to buy anything, but her boyfriend bought and sold drugs. Jauregui told him she wanted to join the military and couldn’t be around drugs.

The following summer Jauregui went to stay with her best friend after she returned from college. Her friend’s parents, seeing how desperate she looked, bought her necessities. Before going on vacation, her friend dropped her off at her apartment where her boyfriend was throwing a party.

Jauregui got really mad and took a walk around the neighborhood.

“I was walking when I saw a mother with her young son and daughter,” said Jauregui. “All of a sudden I heard a car screech up and then gun shots. I remember ducking behind a pillar and watched the mother chuck her kids in her apartment as she hid behind a pillar as well.”

In that moment, while gun shots were going off, she thought to herself, “What am I doing here? This isn’t the life that I wanted.”

After, she went to a pay phone and called her grandmother in Del Rio, Texas, for help. Her grandmother immediately flew her out to Texas in July 2008. Two months later she was finally able to join the Air Force.

“What I learned is that life is hard,” Jauregui said. “It literally takes one second to wreck your entire life. I almost joined a gang and did drugs and that would have ruined my entire life.”

Jauregui remembers when her cousin prevented her from joining the gang, and told her not to make a bad decision that would negatively impact her life just because she was having a bad day.

She made the right decision.