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Creating a better life: a big sister’s mission

Family photos sit on the desk of U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Hailey Magana

Family photos sit on the desk of U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Hailey Magana, 81st Air Control Squadron aerospace control warning systems operational specialist, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, August 5, 2021. In February 2020, Magana enlisted in the Air Force to become a role model to her younger siblings and as a means to provide financial support to her family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anabel Del Valle)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Hailey Magana uses a computer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, August 5, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Hailey Magana, 81st Air Control Squadron aerospace control warning systems operational specialist, uses a computer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, August 5, 2021. Magana’s primary duty is to provide surveillance and identification of aircraft along the Gulf Coast. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anabel Del Valle)

TYNDALL AIR FORE BASE, Fla. --

Tyndall Air Force Base’s primary mission is to develop resourceful and resilient Airmen trained to project unrivaled combat airpower; however many of Tyndall’s Airmen joined the Air Force with these qualities already from their backgrounds.

Airman 1st Class Hailey Magana is no exception. Her job is to provide surveillance and identification of aircraft, ensuring tactical advantage for war fighters. While off-duty, Magana is a big sister and a mentor.

Magana, a Florida native, and her little brothers grew up in a low-income household, despite their father working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Living through financial struggles inspired Magana to help raise her brothers, now 17 and 13-years-old, by any means necessary.

“It started with me on a mission to join the military after high school,” said Magana, 81st Air Control Squadron aerospace control warning systems operational specialist. “I needed to be someone my brothers could look up to. Our dad is a role model, but their only role model couldn’t be someone who works 15-hour shifts to put food on the table.”

Upon high school graduation, Magana’s plans crumbled when she learned a neck tattoo disqualified her from service. She worked multiple jobs over the next three years and spent more than $3,000 to remove the neck tattoo keeping her from her goal.

“I had to show my brothers they could be more than what they know in life,” said Magana. “I tell them all the time that we didn’t come from money. If we want anything in life, we have to work for it.”

Magana’s obstacles joining the military didn’t end there. By the time her tattoo was removed, she weighed over 200 pounds which made her ineligible for service due to weight restrictions.

“I was in a bad place mentally,” said Magana. “I said, ‘It is now or never,’ and I lost 50 pounds. I exercised at least two times a day and I drank a gallon of water every day.”

In February 2020, Magana finally left for the basic military training. The stability of being in the Air Force has provided her with more than she imagined, giving her the opportunity to help her oldest brother purchase a car.

“He was complaining about wanting his license and needing a car to take the test,” explained Magana. “As I was listening to him talk, I was setting an appointment at the Department of Motor Vehicles. We left minutes later to get his license, then went to pick out a car.”

Magana also bought her father a new truck to help ease his stress. She takes pride in sending what she can to give her family an easier life. Although it is Magana’s sacrifice that allows her to support those she loves, the Air Force afforded her the chance.

“Before I joined the military, I felt like I was alone and life was extremely difficult to navigate by myself,” said Magana. “Being an Airman is scary sometimes, but I’ve met people from all over the world who have turned into people I depend on. I have never regretted my decision to join. I don’t feel alone anymore.”