Face of Defense: Airman Transforms Traumatic Experience Into Triumph

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Sept. 25, 2018 — “Life comes in seasons,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nakisha Simon, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group bioenvironmental engineering noncommissioned officer in charge. “If I didn’t get the help I needed, I don’t believe I would have seen the next one.”

Simon is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Whether she is testing base drinking water, identifying and reducing hazardous noise in the workplace, identifying the need for chemical-protective clothing or improving indoor air quality, her job is to help her fellow airmen keep the mission going.

However, at one point in her life, Simon, a former victim’s advocate and 15-year veteran from Pasco, Washington, was the one who needed assistance. 

“I was at a very stressful point in my life,” she said. “When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I felt there was a lot of pressure on me to succeed. Looking back, I know I placed much of that pressure on myself. But to me, it was overwhelming. And that’s the thing. What may not be a big deal to one person may be a big deal for someone else.”

Unfortunately, this combination of stress and anxiety resulted in Simon’s attempts to make an irrevocable decision. Upon waking in the hospital room and seeing her loved ones worried for her, she realized life had other plans in mind.

“I remember waking up and thinking, ‘What did I just do?’” she said. “That’s when I realized how precious life is and that this decision would not only affect me, but affect the people who loved me as well.”

Joining the Military

Simon progressed through school and eventually decided to join the military. While there was the opportunity to pursue her passion for dance, she said, the benefits the Air Force provided were more appealing. However, the most attractive facets were the structure, discipline, and guidance the military life would offer, which Simon said have given her a fulfilling Air Force career. 

“There always seems to be a negative stigma that if someone goes to mental health and receives assistance, they might have issues with their career, or even be separated from the military,” she said. “However, I would like to think of myself as an example. You can get the help you need and still be successful. Getting help does not make you a liability.”

Simon, who is deployed from the 355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, said her previous experience has not been a weakness during her tenure as an airman. She has actually transformed it into a way to help others, and is known as ‘Mom’ in her workplace.

Taking Care of Airmen

“I got the nickname because I am always asking how people are doing on a personal level and trying to care of them,” she said. “I just do my best to be there for the airmen, because while you may not always have the exact answer they need, you can at least listen to them. Sometimes venting an issue and just getting it into the open can be therapeutic.”

When she isn’t serving as her shop’s mom, Simon serves as an actual mother for her 2-year-old daughter, Alexis. She said Alexis and her husband, Byron, help keep her focused on her goal of eventually becoming a first sergeant. She said they also inspire her to be the best version of herself.

“Even though I am deployed, I am lucky to be here today,” she said. “Talking to them and video chatting every day reminds me of how beautiful life really is, and how lucky we are to have one another. As Alexis grows, I’ll give her the same advice I would give a younger version of myself: Life comes in seasons. There will be times where life seems too hard to go on, but know that you will make it through. Love yourself, know you matter, and never be ashamed if you need help.”