GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
The United States Air Force provides endless opportunities for Airmen to pursue an education of their choosing, but many of those provisions are left unclaimed. Airmen state they are too busy, they want to wait until their contract is up or they don’t know what claases they want to take. One Air Force family decided they didn’t want to make excuses, and they wanted to learn.
Senior Airman Cody Willingham, 319th Civil Engineer Squadron engineering journeyman, and his family understand the value of a good education.
“The more you know the more you are capable of relating to different types of people and networking is so important in the Air Force,” said Willingham.
Willingham began taking classes immediately after finishing his career development courses, but is currently taking a break from school to allow his wife, Kyla, the time to focus on finishing her Bachelor of Arts in history degree through the University of North Dakota. Kyla is looking forward to her chance to return the favor.
“It is rare that Cody is not taking some sort of class, but even when he is going to school, he keeps working his second job. I think that's even more amazing because it's just that much more on his plate. I'm probably not always as grateful as I should be, but I hope he knows how much it means to me that he works so hard,” said Kyla. “Believe me, when he's able to focus fulltime on school, I'll be returning the favor. We're a team like that.”
The Willingham family has been forced to make many sacrifices in order to obtain their education.
“A lot of housework gets neglected. We don’t get to spend as much time with the kids as we would prefer,” said Cody. “It’s hard to make time for our relationship.”
Cody said he wakes up at 6 a.m. and gets ready while the kids wake up. Their daughter, Shilo, 6, and son, Asher, 7, will get themselves ready each morning. Kyla takes the time to fix Shilo’s hair, and then they all depart. Cody said he normally drops the kids off at school and heads to work while Kyla heads directly to the UND campus and spends her day studying, in class or at her work-study. Kyla typically picks up the kids at the end of the day, and Cody will get ready for his second job, which he works at several days a week.
Kyla’s motivation for getting an education is her children.
“I never, ever want my kids to see me stop pursuing an education. Even if I'm 90 years old and reading a biography, I want them to know that learning never stops. When I stop pursuing education, I'll be dead. That's how serious I am about it,” said Kyla. “My kids need to know that regardless of what they choose to do in life, there is always more they can do to learn and grow. I'm actually really thankful that they get to see the whole college process. They know how hard Cody and I work, and when I walk across the stage in May and go on to law school, it's all for them. They're probably the reason I've done so well in the past couple of years. They need the see the rewards of hard work.”
Cody, as an Airman, wants to be an example for not only his kids, but his fellow Airmen.
“Every time I get an opportunity to speak to Airmen who just arrived, I always ask them what they are doing. Are they going to school? Why not? Because they’re so young, and it’s so much easier than they think it is,” said Cody. “I understand the idea of not knowing what you want to do, but there’s so much you can get out of an education without knowing where you want to go.”
Kyla hopes to be the same for her fellow Air Force spouses.
“I wish other Air Force spouses would take the opportunity to continue their educations,” said Kyla. “We spend so much of our time immersed in the military lifestyle, which most of us do willingly and thankfully, that we sometimes lose sight of what we can do for ourselves. I know in my case, going back to school has made me a better wife, mother and friend.”
There is only one thing Cody hopes that his fellow Airmen and family will remember.
“You’re never going to have more time than you’re going to have now,” said Cody.