“And I will not fail!”
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea – The U.S. Air Force trains every Airman in its ranks to be resilient, unwavering, and most importantly, to never give up. One Airman in particular has embedded these traits into his life and soul during a major career path change.
Senior Airman Isaac Cacho, an F-16 crew chief from the 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, graduated from Santa Monica High School in California. Out of the 500 graduates in his class, only he and one other person joined the Air Force. His aunt served in the Air Force and his grandfather the Army, motivating him to become part of something bigger than himself.
“I knew coming out of high school that I wanted to join the Air Force,” Cacho said. “I wanted to fulfill my duty in defending the country, helping people and making an impact on their lives at the same time. The Air Force would’ve given me the opportunity to do that and the skills I needed to help people.”
Cacho has been through a lot in his career. After completing the grueling, physically demanding Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion (SERE) career field pipeline and receiving his beret, Cacho failed to meet the standards for qualifying to instruct. This could have meant the end for his service in the Air Force, but his commander saw potential in him and wanted to try to keep him in the service.
“I was in a really dark place when I was told I was failing over and over again,” said Cacho. “I was lucky enough to be offered a chance to stay in the Air Force and retrain.”
Cacho selected 2A3X3, or tactical aircraft maintenance, and was placed in the support section of the squadron until reporting to his technical training.
“I had a lot of time to dwell and reflect on everything that happened,” he said. “After a few weeks of being at what felt like rock bottom, I decided I had enough and started to gradually change almost everything about my life.”
During this time, Cacho sought out ways to improve himself and others around him. He took up several recreational activities, along with working on his spiritual and religious relationships. Some of the activities he pursued included getting scuba dive certified, sky diving, and rock climbing. He credits his friends with helping him through this emotional transition time.
“They made me want to better myself and to kind of return the favor. I created a community within my friends where we’re all close to each other and basically one big family,” he said.
In Cacho’s view, the environment in the tactical aircraft maintenance technical school was very different from the SERE pipeline and training.
“The difference in the two schools’ environment was night and day.” Cacho said. “While SERE was hardcore and trainees were responsible for their own success, the maintenance school was more intimate and technical. It was important to keep a positive, motivating outlook despite classmates’ frustrations when they had challenges academically”.
Despite the challenges at the start of Cacho’s career, he has maintained a positive attitude and continues to work on improving not only himself, but those around him. The 8th Fighter Wing has fostered an environment where he can continue to improve his work life and personal life, while maintaining all of the important aspects of his mental, spiritual and physical health.
“As of right now, I’ve been able to grow personally and professionally at Kunsan more than any other base I’ve been to, even in the short amount of time I’ve been here,” said Cacho. “I’ve been able to get a clear direction on where I want to go in life and really focus on it. I’m still growing as a person and everything leading up to this point has been fuel that’s kept me going and gotten me to where I am now.”
The thought of training in the Air Force’s most elite career fields, such as pararescue, combat controller, special operations weather, and SERE instructor, can be intimidating for many who want to enlist or retrain. Some may think failure means their career is over, although this is not always the case.
Cacho shared some of his insight and wisdom having been in a similar situation.
“These jobs are very serious jobs so you must have the right mentality for it and understand your success is entirely on you,” Cacho said. “It is important to remember that your job does not define you, and everything is what you make of it. If things don’t work out, don’t allow it to break you. Keep your head up, keep moving on with your journey and go on to do great things.”