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Horsham Guardsman, aviator keeps her dreams in the clouds, boots on the grounds

Senior Airman Stacey Bernetskie, 111th Communications Flight client systems technician, smiles while talking with co-workers during the unit training assembly on March 8, 2015, Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania. Bernetskie is working toward her childhood dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond/Released)

Senior Airman Stacey Bernetskie, 111th Communications Flight client systems technician, smiles while talking with co-workers during the unit training assembly on March 8, 2015, Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania. Bernetskie is working toward her childhood dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond/Released)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- Pushing aside a wisp of blonde hair from her forehead, her smile broadens and her voice takes on a heightened tone of excitement upon the mention of aviation.

"I want to fly; I want to be a pilot," said recently promoted Senior Airman Stacey Bernetskie, 111th Communications Flight client systems technician here. "Since I was little, I always knew I wanted to fly jets."

The 28-year old Bernetskie might have very well already been an Air Force pilot, but the desire to achieve this goal wasn't the lone factor influencing her life choices. Although she took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery during her junior year in high school, her yearning to serve was not favored by family.

"I don't know if my parents realized this, but they brought me up in a very military way.

"My parents were very supportive, but they believed that women did not belong in the military," Bernetskie said in a hushed tone. "Instead, they encouraged me to go to college and get my degree."

And she did.

Achieving a bachelor's degree at Millersville University of Pennsylvania in Millersville, she also was a member of the track and field team. Additionally, the Pottsville native participated in a forensic science internship conducting research based around decomposition. The hard-charger continued her education by enrolling in an accelerated-degree program at Drexel University in Philadelphia and then Cedar Crest College in Allentown. After returning to Philadelphia to find employment that would aide her pursuit of higher education, Bernetskie couldn't wave off a nagging feeling.

"The Air Force thing still bothered me," she said. "At that time, I didn't want to go active duty, but I thought that I could [enlist in] the Guard and that way I'd have a little bit of [military and civilian life]."

After enlisting, completing basic training and technical training, Bernetskie returned to the Philadelphia area and to Horsham Air Guard Station. She knew that her journey with the military was just throttling up.

"I wanted to be an officer in the military from day one. And my parents had finally accepted my decision and were fine with it," she said.

Bernetskie had proved to her parents that she had the makings of a quality service member, so also proved it to the Guardsmen around her.

"As the [Air Operations Group] transitions to move out, [Bernetskie] proved herself and her work to be indispensable," said Lt. Col. Scott Meier, 111th Air Operations Group deputy group commander. "She single-handedly built a spreadsheet that is critical in reassigning members into alternate career paths."

Currently, she is taking the steps necessary to make her childhood ambition a reality.

Taking the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, a standardized test measuring aptitudes and selecting applicants for officer commissioning programs, she narrowly missed the necessary pilot score. She intends on testing again in April. In the meantime, Bernetskie is still dreaming big and putting in the hard work and dedication necessary to become and Air Force pilot -- not just studying for the test.

"Right now, I'm taking private flying lessons out of my own pocket with what I can afford," she said. "I know I don't have the money upfront to pay for a full pilot license, but just getting a few hours is what was recommended to me. So, whatever I need to do, I'll do it--I want this."

Willing to sacrifice, she said that being in the military is truly her life's compass.

"For how quickly I became accustomed to the military lifestyle, I knew that it was meant for me from the beginning," she said. "Even though my parents were anti-military for me initially, they really promoted the same value system: respect, teamwork, multi-tasking and helping others. The morals of the Air Force fit how I was raised."
Although her heart soars when thinking about a future as an Air Force pilot, Bernetskie believes that in whatever capacity or rank she serves, she is prepared to continue working hard and moving forward.

"When I'm up in the air, I'm not scared; it's an adrenaline rush. If I take the test again and my points aren't high enough to fly, I'd definitely like to go into [a medical squadron]--I mean, I worked in a morgue. Either way, I have no problem getting dirty."

Bernetskie still has obstacles to overcome in realizing her vision, but there is little doubt that her future is paved with achievement.

"[Bernetskie] has the makings of a great leader," said Meier. "It's true she is a hard worker and a people person. What's more important than those attributes is that she has the vision to look ahead and the ability to access the skillsets of those around her. She makes decisions based on those factors; and that is what sets Senior Airman Bernetskie up for success."