Airman aims high, achieves life dreams

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --

There are hundreds of thousands of active duty Airmen in the enlisted force; only 85 are accepted into the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program each year.

This program is a continuous effort to give the nation's best and brightest enlisted Airmen the opportunity to further excel with appointments to the United States Air Force Academy.

One of Team Misawa’s very own, Senior Airman Patryk Myko Dela Cruz, a 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron mission generation vehicle equipment maintenance technician, realized his dreams to enter the program, and overcame many life challenges to make it happen.

Unbeknownst to him, the Air Force pillars of resiliency steered him towards success.

“I didn’t get accepted the first time [into LEAD],” Dela Cruz said. “The application process definitely was not easy and very competitive. It challenged me mentally, physically and spiritually. I even remember before I started training for the Candidate Fitness Assessment, the fitness test portion of the application, I couldn’t even do a single pull-up.”

Although the application itself was difficult, the challenges he faced actually started the moment he became an Airman. 

“I was born and raised in the Philippines; I lived there for almost 17 years until my parents and I got our U.S. visas,” Dela Cruz explained. “I could barely speak English while I was in basic training. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. Afterward, I decided I would challenge myself so I could do even better things [in my career].”

After finishing his technical training in Port Hueneme at Naval Base Ventura County, California, he found himself stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where he met people who encouraged him to begin his LEAD program application.

“I didn’t know about the program until about a month after I arrived to Minot,” Dela Cruz explained. “I was a volunteer at the base church protestant service worship band, not knowing that my bandmate, Cole, was my commander’s son. This led to a conversation with my commander.”

After sharing his plans to one day become an Air Force pilot, he dug more into the LEAD Program. Because of his outstanding moral character, his unstoppable work ethic proven in performance reports and his desire to complete something even more challenging in life, he learned he was eligible to submit an application.

“I didn’t know how challenging it was going to be; however, I had a mindset of ‘I’m going to do it,’” Dela Cruz said. “When my supervision in Minot heard, they were more than happy to help me out. They are definitely one of the main reasons I got an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School this year.”

As he continued with the application process, he soon found himself facing another tough time in his career.

“Staff Sgt. Jerad Davis, my supervisor in Minot, gave me an impromptu feedback one night and told me ‘Dela Cruz, you’re going to be a hot-shot officer,’” Dela Cruz said. “It was devastating when I found out that he took his own life the week after.”

It was a hard moment for Dela Cruz, but he did his best to push forward, leaning on the mental and spiritual fitness he had gained throughout the years.

“I had a lot of people who backed me up,” Dela Cruz said. “Staff Sgt. Davis died believing I could do it. My family, friends and church family never stopped praying, and they never gave up believing I could achieve it. It was because of them, and of course God, on why I finished my application and eventually got an appointment with a program counselor.”

For the second time around, he put in all the hard work, tested, waited patiently and finally, acceptance day came.

“On the day I was notified, my co-workers told me to sit-up front,” Dela Cruz recounted. “From that moment, I had a feeling on what was going to happen. Nevertheless, it still felt unbelievable and surreal; It was awesome!”

Dela Cruz said he always remembers his dad telling him, “If other people can do it, you can too,” leaving an everlasting impact on his outlook on life.

“I’m just an average person who had a goal in mind,” Dela Cruz said. “Consider my background and think, if I can do it, you can too.”