ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla --
Each year in February we celebrate Black History month. It is a time to share stories, reflect and never forget where our journey began.
Imagine a little girl growing up in a small two-bedroom home with her parents and seven siblings. The setting is Point Blank, Texas a little town an hour north of Houston. She is the daughter of Donald and Measie Phipps and they live on Phipps Road, a street named after her family.
In August of 2001, that girl joined the United States Air Force and it changed her life forever.
I am that girl. I am Senior Master Sgt. Janice Presha and this is my story.
The small home I lived in when I was younger was passed down to my father by his father, Roosevelt Phipps. Roosevelt was drafted into the Army and served during World War II. After the war, my father lived with his parents and 11 siblings in a one-bedroom home that was 420 square feet and sat on four acres of land. In January of 1958, my family lost their home to a fire which left them with nothing. Three years later, in 1961, my grandfather rebuilt a 784 square foot home on our land, and in 1970 he gifted that home to my parents immediately after they married.
I can still remember the layout of our small two-bedroom home. Inside the front door was the living room which was also my parent’s bedroom. Their bed sat to the left and a recliner on the right. We had a window air conditioner, gas heater, small entertainment center with a 27-inch TV, couch and living room table. To the right of the living room was a bedroom that had a dresser, two beds and a wooden wardrobe in it.
The kitchen was just past the living room. Within it were two refrigerators and three tables. One table was used as a food pantry, another as a counter and for dining. On the third, toward the back wall, sat a microwave.
The second bedroom was to the right of the kitchen and inside was a bed a dresser and a freezer. That room was mostly used to store clothes for the family. The living room, kitchen and second bedroom all had an exterior door, however, there were no interior doors. Instead, we hung sheets in the open doorways.
Some of my most favorite childhood moments were during the summer. Oftentimes my younger siblings and I would play outside. We had a swing set, a small swimming pool, bikes and other toys which were all gifted to our family.
We had a small farm and garden. My mother was always cooking. She baked fresh berry cobbler from the berries we picked outside. She also baked the best tea cakes. The environment was definitely filled with love and care. We were a close family.
My father says it was a struggle back then. He didn’t have much, but he ensured that his family was taken care of to the best of his abilities. During those times, he worked for a milling company, fixed cars, did landscaping, tree cutting and other small jobs to keep money flowing. I remember him leaving for work early in the morning and returning late in the evening. I looked forward to his return because he would bring us soda and candy.
I enjoyed my childhood. We did not have much financially, but we were rich in love. Looking back, I would not change a thing. My parents had a special way of loving all my sibling just the same. They taught us how to respect and love everyone. They spoke life.
I remember them telling me how smart I was and that, if I worked hard, I could accomplish whatever I desired in life. Their words were very powerful. We are a Christian family and they taught us to put our trust in God. My mom would always pray and sing hymns. We survived.
In 1999 my parents moved us into a new three bedroom mobile home next door to our old house. I was headed into my sophomore year in high school when we moved. That was one of the best moments growing up. I was so excited for my parents to have their own living space and it was nice to finally share a room with only my sister Bridget. My brothers Troy and Dontrae shared the other bedroom.
As a teenager, life was challenging. I attended school in Coldspring, Texas, around 14 miles south of Point Blank. The daily bus ride was 45 minutes to an hour to and from school. I participated in sports including volleyball, track, basketball and cheerleading. I was also a member of the National Honor Society.
We didn’t have a computer at home so I had to use the library or go to my cousin’s house (Elizabeth Perry, who is like another mother to me). I was hungry for success, but I know it was a financial struggle for my parents.
Looking back, I would like to say that I oftentimes jumped the gun and enrolled in extracurricular activities knowing that my parents may or may not be able to pick me up after school. I remember returning from away games and, instead of enjoying the moment, I worried about how I would get home. I had to go to the police station a couple times to wait for my parents to pick me up. Toward the end of high school, my aunt, other family members and friends ensured I was taken care of.
Finally, in August of 2001, I jumped even higher. After graduating in the top ten of my high school class, I joined the United States Air Force. I had no clue what to expect, but I wanted to be independent. I was over the struggle.
I graduated basic military training in October of 2001. After technical training, I arrived at my first duty station, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Since Barksdale was only three and half hours from home, I often visited my parents during the weekends. My supervision there took really good care of me. I learned my job (supply management), enrolled in Louisiana Tech University, volunteered, gave back to the local community and, most importantly, met the love of my life, now Senior Master Sgt. Zarcariaous Presha.
I am a humble leader because of my childhood upbringing and career path, and I stand here today because of the many wonderful people who paved the way. I believe there is success in the struggle if you endure and press through.