JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- “I had given up on myself. I was at the lowest point in my life and I knew there was no chance of my ever fulfilling my dreams as a physician.”
Staff Sgt. Dana Lee is a traditional reservist with the 69th Aerial Port Squadron. Ever since she was in middle school she had dreams of working in the medical field as a physician. To start her off on the right path, her parents put her in Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, during her teenage years, to gain exposure to the medical field. It wasn’t until she started college at Carnegie Mellon University that her life began to spiral downward which would lead her to the lowest point she would ever experience in her life.
“I was on a path to success,” she said. “I went to a great high school and then I got to college and started having trouble with my finances. I found myself having multiple part-time jobs and a full-time job on top of being a full-time student.”
Before Lee knew it, her grade point average drastically dropped. She came to the realization that no graduate school will ever accept her due to her GPA.
“I was depressed. My self-esteem was really low and I had no confidence in myself, no courage for anything” she said. “My lifelong dream was not going to happen. I failed myself and I knew there was no coming back from this.”
Lee’s mother, noticing her daughter had given up all hope, one day brought up the idea of joining the Air Force Reserve. Skeptical, Lee did some research and came to the conclusion that the Reserve may bring some much needed discipline in her life.
“I never thought about the military,” she said. “But, I did know it was time to do something with my life.”
Before she knew it, she was off to basic training. Lee shared how the first few days of training discouraged her as she struggled to meet the standard.
“It was bad. My mile and a half was 20 minutes and I could barely do a push-up,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I had a sudden burst of motivation. I wasn’t going to let this bring me down any more than I already was. I had to push myself.”
Lee ended up being an honor graduate at basic training and also achieved academic excellence at her technical school where she became an air transportation technician.
“Things were starting to look up for me,” she said. “When I got to my unit at the 69th APS I came across an email about the Air Force Enlisted to Medical program. Of course, it interested me because deep down I never completely let go of my dream. I still wanted to become a physician.”
After looking over the requirements, Lee realized she was not qualified for many reasons to include her time in service, lack of job experience, and a low GPA from her undergraduate degree.
“I wasn’t qualified at all, but I was not going to let that stop me,” she said. “I put a game plan together and began working toward my goal once again.”
Lee applied to graduate school at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she would study and graduate with her Masters in Mental Health and a certificate in Maternal and Child Health.
“I knew I would never have a chance at the enlisted to medical program with my undergrad GPA. So I went to grad school to get a better GPA,” she said. “After I accomplished that, I was one year out from meeting the minimum time in service to apply for the program. I used that final year to become an expert at my job.”
Lee sought out to become an experienced technician in her section. Despite being a traditional reservist with limited time on the job, she made sure she knew her job well and performed above the standard.
“In order to apply for this program I had to have recommendations from all of my leaders,” she said. “Being an expert at my job was necessary if I wanted to have a shot at this.”
About midway to her deadline to turn in her application, Lee was met with a surprise, she was pregnant. She took six months off for maternity leave to take care of her now one-year-old baby, Aina. She expressed she was nervous about being away from her unit for so long.
“I didn’t want my maternity leave to affect things,” she said. “I still got my CDCs (career development course) done and all my training requirements, and I stayed in contact with my supervisor. I knew when I returned back to my unit, it would be time to start putting my package together.”
Upon returning to the 69th APS after being absent for six months, Lee’s supervisor, Tech Sgt. Jonathan White, helped her gather recommendations and put her application together. She submitted her application and hoped the next four months would fly by.
“It was nerve-racking waiting for the results,” she said. “My mother and husband stood by me the whole time. She has always been there with me from the start; without her I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now. She picked me up when I was at my lowest, and I am forever grateful. My mother was just as excited for the results as I was.”
Months went by and Lee began to have doubts. After all, only eight members Air Force-wide are selected for this position.
“I would stalk the Facebook page and myPers every single day,” she said. “They never told us the release date, so I was on edge for a while. I had worked so hard to redeem myself, no sense in losing faith now.”
In April, myPers released the 2020 Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program selectees.
“I saw the list and I couldn’t believe it when I saw my name,” she said. “I came so far from where I was and this moment made me so proud of myself. It was an exciting day.”
Lee called her supervisor to share the good news. She not only made her mother and her family proud, but also her unit.
“The enlisted men and women of the 69th APS are tremendously proud of SSgt Dana Lee’s well deserved selection,” said Chief Master Sgt. Israel Nunez, 69th APS superintendent. “To have competed with dozens of Airmen across the Air Force enterprise and to have the distinct honor of being selected for such a competitive program speaks volumes of Staff Sgt. Lee’s talents. I have no doubt that she will continue to achieve success in her forthcoming medical studies, and in her future career as an officer in our, Medical Services Corps.”
Lee was sworn into active duty on June 15, 2020, and will start pre-medical school in June where she will spend two years studying before going to medical school to become an officer in the medical field.
“My journey began at the 459th Air Refueling Wing,” she said. “My supervisor and leadership played a huge role in this process. It was the support I received from my unit, family and friends that made this possible. I am extremely grateful for the Air Force Reserve giving me this opportunity to accomplish my dreams. I am ready to continue serving the Air Force and will need full support from my family, who I am ever so grateful for. For the exciting journey ahead, I will do my best to be a loving mother to Aina, devoted wife to Woong Young So, and a proud daughter.