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Through it all, Airman bounces back after hardship

  • Published
  • By Sheila deVera
  • JBER Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK -- An Airman from the 176th Communications Flight exemplifies someone who had a difficult childhood but refused to give up in the face of their struggles by using her military career and available resources to overcome adversity and achieve success.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Jaymie Herbert was born to a teenage mother who struggled with drug addiction and trauma of her own. Jaymie had three other siblings by the time she was seven, and they were in and out of the foster-care system until they were eventually removed from their mother's custody. All the siblings were adopted into the same family.

“Unfortunately, my adoptive mother adopted 14 children for financial stability, and we were known as the ‘Cheaper by the Dozen Clan’ within our community,” Herbert explained. “Behind closed doors was emotional, medical, physical and sexual abuse.”

Her long-lasting friend, Crystal Nguyen, said, Jaymie was adopted into a home that was in it for the money. Out of all the children, only two [including Jaymie] appear to have made it out alive, out of jail, or with little emotional impact.

Before graduating from high school, she was given the option to join the military or be kicked out at 18 and face homelessness. The Lakeside, California, native chose to enlist. Jaymie first wanted to join the Navy at first, but the recruiter was too pushy, so she approached an Air Force recruiter instead.

“I had to lose 40 pounds in order to get into basic training,” she said. “I made it into the Air Force, and it was the best stepping stone I could have had.”

After the abandonment issues from her adopted family occurred, she married a “tech school” boyfriend who provided her with the attention she craved. Unfortunately, her 20-year-old emotional vulnerability was exploited by her marriage, leading her to consider suicide for the first three months after the joint spouse assignment was approved. In reflecting on her early military career, Herbert stated that the Air Force gave her the opportunity to address her mental health issues. Herbert was dealing with the emotional scars left by years of abuse from her adoptive family and her first marriage.

She saw herself as fortunate to have a supervisor who showed her compassion, supported her in her weak moments, was her cheerleader, and ultimately saved her life during one of the lowest moments in her trauma-healing journey.

“For the next eight years, I was able to turn to mental health services to help me get through some pretty difficult times and move to a place of healing and personal growth,” Jaymie continued. “Without the Air Force, I would not have had those very important resources to transform my life – without my desire to transform my life, those resources would not have been used. It is important for all service members to know the resources and utilize them if they want to be the best they can be. I am glad that mental health is being discussed more openly within our force.”

School was her escape growing up and she aspired to be the first in her family to earn a college degree. She got her first associate’s degree through the Community College of the Air Force; then, she continued to chip away at her bachelor’s degree and finished it just eight months before reaching her six-year contract on active duty.  After transitioning to the Alaska Air National Guard, she obtained her second CCAF degree and used her G.I. Bill to pursue a master’s degree. Throughout these years, she married her second husband of 10 years and became mom to a son and daughter.

Nguyen said Jaymie is one of the most energetic and motivated people she has met, working hard to break the cycle of abuse and overcome trauma while still having the energy and desire to serve and regard people as assets to the world and organizations for which she has worked.

Herbert, 32, was selected as one of the Class of 2023 Top Forty Under 40 by the Alaska Journal of Commerce and the Anchorage Daily News out of 262 nominees statewide. This award recognizes Alaska’s best professionals under 40 who have proven professional excellence and dedication to their community. Jaymie was nominated by a few of her coworkers.

In November 2020, Jaymie became a Human Resources generalist with the City of Wasilla. Due to her military background, she did not truly understand the role she was hired into, said Lisa Bartgis, executive assistant to the mayor.

“Jaymie’s transformational leadership approach and expertise have allowed for constructive direction at the city, which is recognized by the elevation of her position from HR generalist to HR manager,” Bartgis said. “She has modernized the city’s HR practices that have impacted important and necessary business modification, all while serving her state and country with her required military duty.”

The Air Force recognizes the whole-person concept, so Herbert wanted to be the best Airman should be, and volunteered with Reach907, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Standing Together Against Rape Alaska Crisis Hotline. With over 900 hours of community service, she said she found STAR Alaska to be most fulfilling.

“I spent hundreds of hours on the end of the line when callers in crisis needed a warm presence to listen as they worked through their immediate situations,” the mother of two described. “They need to know they are not alone, and I was able to be there for them.”

She said that volunteering and schooling kept her on track, so she didn’t have time to make a poor judgment based on trauma responses while healing.

Recently, she has connected with MyHouse in Wasilla. MyHouse’s aim is to empower and create self-sufficient community members for all youth experiencing homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless. With a hand-up, not a hand-out, philosophy, they provide safe accommodation and wrap-around assistance for youth. As a trauma survivor and HR professional, Jaymie said she felt at ease when she walked into MyHouse. Their youth services align with her professional perspective that a properly prepared workforce is the best way to continue to grow the community.

She attributes her success to the resources offered by the Air Force. Education, readily available mental health resources, and a supervisor who enabled her to grow without tearing her down when she was down were all important in aiding her through many seasons of personal growth. As a result, she said she is in her dream job as an HR professional and still has the opportunity to serve where her roots began as an Airman in the Air National Guard.

"The Air Force provided me with skills that I would not have received otherwise," Herbert stated. "I learned how to be in the world, achieve my educational goals while remaining debt-free, and work on healing from childhood trauma. All of this was made possible by the services and support I received while serving in the military. It was a profession that allowed me to grow up alongside a supportive supervisor and become the person I am today."