Do what you have to do to be where you want to be

Higher education can seem like a daunting prospect, especially for those who have trouble maintaining the balance between their social lives and academics. Active duty service members can find it especially difficult, as the job itself can be very demanding.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center, only 0.013 percent of enlisted members in the U.S. Air Force noncommissioned officer tier have a professional degree, one of which calls Aviano home.

The term ‘higher education’ alone can be intimidating, but Staff Sgt. Christopher Atkins, 31st Medical Group family member travel screener, hasn’t let that stop him from seizing the opportunity while serving as an enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force.

“There are Airmen who may be questioning whether or not they should pursue a higher education, and those who might’ve never considered school,” he said. “I am definitely an example of someone who never would’ve imagined having a master’s degree, let alone a doctorate.”

Staff Sgt. Christopher Atkins, 31st Medical Group family member travel screener, poses for a photo at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Aug. 18. Atkins earned a Doctorate of Business Administration, with a specialization in healthcare management, in 2019.

Atkins earned his doctorate of business administration, with a specialization in healthcare management, in 2019, and hopes to inspire and motivate other Airmen to keep pushing forward in accomplishing their professional and personal goals while serving.

“You can accomplish anything when you have the commitment, motivation, drive and dedication,” he said. “We are our own worst critics, and we are the ones who dictate whether we succeed or fail.”

Atkins believes motivation and drive have to ultimately come from within, but credits his mother for teaching him to never be satisfied with complacency.

“I was able to see firsthand what hard work and perseverance can lead to, as my mom has been very successful in life,” he said. “I always told myself if she can do it despite the obstacles she faced, I have no reason not to make her proud by elevating myself to the greatest extent possible. Her children’s success is a testament to [her] and how she raised us.”

Throughout the years, Atkins received a substantial amount of messages from both family and strangers alike who were inspired by his journey and achievements, he said.

“I never take these words for granted, and always use these moments to stay dedicated to helping others and providing information or motivation when I can,” Atkins said. “This is not a ‘you must go to school to be successful’ spiel, because I believe school is not for everybody.”

Learning a trade is just as useful and necessary as any degree, said Atkins, and Airmen should take advantage of educational benefits already provided to them by the Air Force.

“Set small goals,” Atkins said. “It can be easy to get discouraged by the amount of work involved if you only see the end-goal. Keep short-term and long-term goals, keep them attainable and measurable.”

Do what you have to do to be where you want to be, Atkins says. His hard work, not making excuses, and always striving to better himself keep his motivation alive.

“Staff Sgt. Atkins is a hard worker, is never satisfied and is always looking for the next goal to crush,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Ferguson, 31st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, and mentor to Atkins. “He is one of the most driven and well-educated NCOs I have ever met, and is very calculated in what he wants.”

Atkins’ education required years of long hours away from his family and he attributes his success to the sacrifices his family has made. He hopes to leave a legacy for not only his children, but for the community in which he grew up in.

“At some point, I told myself I am not doing this for me, but for others as well,” he said. “For my family and to denounce the negative stereotypes surrounding black males [and] our limited [career] options. I wanted to take any negative stereotypes and flip the script so that when people saw me, they saw a different option.”