LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
For most people, getting a degree while working full time is very stressful. Two sibling service members who have faced such challenges head-on, have guided one another and found solace in each other's company during their lifelong scholastic pursuit.
With the help of military tuition assistance and Air Force ROTC scholarships, the military service helped Master Sgt. Liesbeth Bowen, the 633rd Air Base Wing Staff Agency first sergeant, and Maj. Liliana Henriquez, Oceana Dam Neck Annex Joint Targeting School Joint Staff J7 instructor, achieve their educational and career goals.
"My military career changed my education path, because it made me realize how much I loved to teach,” Bowen said. “I started off studying project management, but ended up getting a master's degree in education."
Bowen first enlisted in the Air Force as a medic in the neurology field, earning an associate degree in applied science. She later studied project management, but was swayed toward education after becoming a professional military education instructor for the NCO Academy, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
During this assignment, Bowen realized she enjoyed teaching even more, and earned an associate degree in instruction of military science. She eventually became a first sergeant, earning her third Community College of the Air Force associate degree in human relations. Shortly thereafter, she completed a master's degree in education.
"Everything you do in the military opens up a door to another path you may not have been aware of," Bowen said.
Having joined the Air Force before her sister, Bowen learned about ROTC scholarships and opened that door for her sister. Following Bowen's advice, Henriquez joined the Air Force through the ROTC program. Double-majoring in Russian and international relations, and minoring in psychology, she eventually earned her master's degree in the science of strategic intelligence.
Applying for language immersions throughout college, Henriquez went to Kiev, Ukraine; Florence, Italy; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Each immersion taught her about the different cultures and how to speak the native languages.
During the latter portion of her education, Henriquez worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. After an assignment to Bogota, Colombia, to support the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Henriquez was assigned to a career she never would have imagined -- a targeteer instructor.
"The Air Force certainly opened my eyes to things that I love, but never would have considered for myself," Henriquez said. "I thought I was going to hate it, but it turned out I loved targeting. I spent one assignment as a targeteer and have spent my whole career trying to get back into it. Then, I got my dream job here in Virginia Beach as a targeteer instructor."
After all their hard work finishing their education, both sisters were very excited when they received their assignments to Virginia, because it is where they consider home.
Henriquez and Bowen were born in Caracas, Venezuela. At ages 5 and 6, their family moved to the United States, settling in Hampton Roads, to further their father's entertainment business.
Spanish was the sisters' first language, so they studied English as a second language. Later, their accents set them apart from the other children and they initially struggled to fit in.
Bowen and Henriquez said there were many difficulties from childhood through adulthood, especially while going to school and working as service members simultaneously. But such experiences, they said, have given them insight as how to make the best of the cards they're dealt.
"No matter what obstacles you are faced with, remember they are temporary," Bowen said. "Once you get through to the other side, look back at what you learned from those challenges and make yourself and those around you better Airmen. If we don't grow from our challenges and obstacles, then it was all in vain."