This report originally published at defense.gov.
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Growing up in Gilroy, California, Jacqueline Jauregui had everything a girl could wish for: money, designer clothes and so much more. Shortly after her high school graduation, her father took everything from her and kicked her to the streets.
Now an Air Force staff sergeant and the enlisted aide to the Air Force Space Command deputy commander, Jauregui was determined to make her life right, but struggled to get there. She talked about her past to fellow airmen during a “Storytellers at The Club” event at Peterson Air Force Base, March 30.
“Growing up in Gilroy was a place where everybody knew each other,” Jauregui said. “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,” Jauregui said. “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.”
She became tired of depending on her father and his money. When Jauregui 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,” she said.
Two weeks before her high school graduation, Jauregui was in a car accident and injured her back. The injury was serious enough 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, Jauregui’s 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,” she said.
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 matter 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: death or prison.
“My cousins wouldn’t let me become a gang member,” she 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.”
Jauregui’s 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,” Jauregui said. “We couldn’t even afford toiletries. My boyfriend and I had to share a bar of soap, which was disgusting.”
Her 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 and she and her boyfriend used that to wash themselves.
They weren’t be able to buy necessities, but Jauregui’s boyfriend bought and sold drugs. She told him she wanted to join the military and couldn’t be around drugs.
‘What Am I Doing Here?’
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 her friend left on vacation, she drove Jauregui back home to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend. Jauregui discovered her boyfriend was throwing a party.
She said she got mad and took a walk around the neighborhood.
“I was walking when I saw a mother with her young son and daughter,” Jauregui said. “All of a sudden I heard a car screech up and then gunshots. 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 gunshots were going off, she said she thought to herself, “What am I doing here? This isn’t the life that I wanted.”
After, Jauregui went to a payphone 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.”
She said she remembers when her cousins 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.
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