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Air Force Academy candidate overcomes admission trials

Col. Joyce Merl, 154th Mission Support Group commander, recognizes Airman Anuhea Pikake Alama, 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron materials handler, for her acceptance into the Air Force Academy Preparatory School June 2, 2019, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Col. Joyce Merl, 154th Mission Support Group commander, recognizes Airman Anuhea Pikake Alama, 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron materials handler, for her acceptance into the Air Force Academy Preparatory School June 2, 2019, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Alama has been trying to gain admission to the Air Force Academy since her high school years. The ‘prep school’ is a 10-month-long course which helps prepare students for the AFA’s four-year curriculum. When Airmen and civilians are enrolled, they become ‘cadet candidates.’ (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

Rejection can be hard to accept sometimes; especially for a high-school student who’s been denied entrance to her dream college. While most are left with no choice but to move on to other options, some people just don’t seem to take ‘no’ as a final answer.

When Anuhea Pikake Alama heard about her denial to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, she was ‘absolutely crushed.’

The news wasn’t easy to digest for the Waianae High School student. For a short-lived period, feelings of distraught affected her focus on schoolwork and athletic performance in her wrestling.

But Alama isn’t the kind of person who lets circumstances set her back for very long. With the support of her family and a resilient attitude, she shifted her focus to alternative paths.

As a member of the Junior Reserve Officer Corps, Alama had several role models and peers within the military community. One of her friends in the U.S. Navy inspired her to take a vocational test at her local Military Employment Processing Station. Her test results were high, and it attracted the attention of a local recruiter from the Hawaii Air National Guard.

“When I spoke with the recruiter, it was eye-opening” said Alama, “because I realized this might be another chance to go after my goals - but in a different way. He explained how I could stay home and continue my education while I served. I felt like this was my calling.”

Serving as a part-time guardsman seemed to be a viable and exciting alternative for Alama. However, the recruiting process dragged on for several months due to a medical discrepancy. On paper, her condition was listed as a total showstopper, but Alama didn’t see it that way.

In the face of her potentially, disqualifying condition, Alama attended to a lengthy series of appointments to resolve the issue. Her persistence eventually paid off when she proved to medical staff how she was ‘fit-to-fight’ and the discrepancy was waved.

In June 2017, she was able to enlist as a Material Handler in the 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron. While she joined for a host of career-focused reasons, her enlistment also included a few things she didn’t bargain for.

“I didn’t see this coming,” she said, “but the HIANG really has something special. There’s just so much love here. The people I’m surrounded by are more like a family than they are coworkers. Come to find out; I live next door to a lot of them. It’s just been a tight-knit community.”

It wasn’t long before commanders and supervisors took notice Alama’s leadership potential; so, when the opportunity came to submit applicants for the Air Force Academy’s Preparatory School, a package was submitted for Alama.

The ‘prep school’ is a 10-month-long course which helps prepare students for the AFA’s four-year curriculum. When Airmen and civilians are enrolled, they become ‘cadet candidates.’

However, Alama’s medical status had, once again, been in conflict with the prep school’s stringent standards. But this time, she was even more prepared to handle it. After working closely with several agencies to reassess her health condition, her medical clearance was authorized, and the school request was finally processed.

On June 3, 2019, at the close of a drill weekend, members of her unit gathered for a team picnic. Members of Alama’s family also attended the event to witness a special moment in her career. Col. Joyce Merl, 154th Mission Support Group commander, made a formal announcement to the crowd – Alama received her letter of acceptance.

Now, Alama is the first traditional member of the HIANG and Waianae High School to be accepted into an Air Force Academy program. Upon completion of the 10-month preparatory school, she will potentially be admitted to a four-year enrolment at the AFA, followed by a commission into the U.S. Air Force.

“We could tell she’s been through an emotional roller coaster up to this point,” said Merl, “It was clear that she was so excited to have a second chance to apply and she stayed motivated the whole time. I have a lot of confidence in her and it’s just nice to witness the future of the Air Force.”

As an AFA graduate, Merl said officers who complete the program are received with a level respect in all their preceding assignments, accompanied by higher levels of expectations. While the next several years of intensive schooling may appear to be a daunting task for some, Alama didn’t seem hindered by the obstacles which lay ahead of her.

“Anything that you’re uncomfortable with will be intimidating, but you just have to take it head on. Always be open minded, because you can always adapt to the environment; even for something as simple as the weather. I’ve been living in Hawaii all 20 years of my life, and going to somewhere in Colorado, where it drops down to 36 degrees in the summer. It’s going to be years of challenges, but I know I’m on a mission now and am open to anything that will bring me closer to my goals. I’m nervous, but I’m ready.”