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From AmeriCorps to Afghanistan

by Rebecca Lange

My name is Rebecca Lange and I am a proud alumna of the second class of AmeriCorps NCCC. I served at the Central Region campus in Denver, CO, from 1995-1996, a wide-eyed high school graduate looking for an adventure, a unique way to serve, and beyond excited to begin what I hoped to be an awesome life.

My parents had told me I was on my own to pay for college – not because they couldn't afford it, but because I'd appreciate it more if I earned it. This was intimidating for a 17-year-old to hear, but with no time to waste, I found the answer while listening to President Clinton's 1995 State of the Union address. He described a group of Americans “helping people person-to-person in local grassroots volunteer groups, solving problems, and in the process earning some money for their education.” Perfect.

I joined AmeriCorps in September 1995, and arrived at Lowry Air Force Base (which had recently closed as a military installation). I moved into the dorms, formerly occupied by Air Force Airmen, ready to begin the adventure of a lifetime. Any AmeriCorps alum reading this knows what happens next: you're swept away, humbled, and soon exhausted by the service projects and challenges. Your team becomes your family, your projects become your pride and joy, and your sense of what is really important changes drastically.

My year of service ended in August 1996 as a member of the AmeriCorps Olympic Team for the Games. Two weeks later, I had traded my grey T-shirt with the big “A” on the sleeve, black utility pants, and steel-toed boots for brown T-shirts, camouflaged utility pants, and -- you guessed it -- steel-toed boots. I was now a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet in the U.S. Air Force. Giddyup!

The transition could not have been more natural. Uniform -- check. Dorm inspection -- check. Physical training -- check. Leadership and followership -- check. An oath to pledge your support to an organization bigger than yourself -- check. And at the heart of them both – service, plain and simple.

Four years after I finished my AmeriCorps service, I graduated from the University of Colorado – in no small part thanks to my education award – and was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant.

The location of the commissioning ceremony? The aviation museum on Lowry Air Force Base, less than half a mile from the AmeriCorps dorms. The significance, the connection, and the relevance were not lost on me then -- nor are they now. It's all about service. It's the pride in knowing your country needs you and has trained you to answer its call. And in a small, small way, you know you are giving back to the country that allowed you to grow up in freedom.

From building houses with Habitat for Humanity to building trails with NCCC, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from my hometown to my current duty location, I could not be more proud to be an Airman, an Air Force officer, and an AmeriCorps alum!

Maj. Rebecca Lange currently serves in the United States Air Force and was a former member of AmeriCorps NCCC from 1995 to 1996.

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