Education, perseverance key to overcoming barriers

Capt. Nercresainne White, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron Cyber Operations flight commander, has faced many hardships, lessons and great achievements in her life. White believes anyone can succeed as long as they have determination, courage and a support system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez)

Capt. Nercresainne White, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron Cyber Operations flight commander, has faced many hardships, lessons and great achievements in her life. White believes anyone can succeed as long as they have determination, courage and a support system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Growing up in rent controlled housing, receiving food stamps and constantly worrying about bills being paid was a way of life for Nercresainne White.

Despite her living conditions, White showed signs from an early age of her commitment to school and remained determined to improve her life.

Born in Monroe, Louisiana, White and her two brothers were raised by their mother, Jeanette. With her mom holding down two jobs, this presented some challenges for her family.

“We had to grow up pretty fast,” White said. “With my mom always at work, that meant we had to take care of ourselves when we weren’t at school.”

For her, school was a huge outlet. She found joy in running track, playing basketball, math and reading.

Even at a young age, White valued her education and would do schoolwork during the summers because it was something fun to do to pass the time.

“School was the way out of my small town,” White said.

Many of her peers would graduate from high school and not advance any further. During school she did well academically and athletically, which resulted in obtaining a scholarship to Alabama State University.

“That is where I found out about the U.S. Air Force,” White said. “Before that, I didn’t even know it existed.”

Even though school was still something she wanted to pursue, she made the decision to leave ASU behind and enlist in the Air Force in 2003.

For three years, White served as a dental hygienist stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam, Hawaii. During her enlisted years, her leadership saw potential in her even she didn’t realize. They recommended she submit a package for the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program, an outlet for enlisted Airmen to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

At the time, White’s goal was to become a dental hygienist, but submitting a package for the LEAD program was an opportunity that she wasn’t aware of.

 “I thought to myself ‘if my leadership saw something in me, then why not go for it; the worst they could say was no.’” White said. “I remember talking to one of my really close friends, and I told her ‘I don’t think I’m going to go through with it,’ because of how scared I was. The next day I got my notification letter in the mail and within a few months I went to the Academy.”

White spent almost a year in the Academy’s preparatory school before completing four years at the Academy. She commissioned as a cyberspace operator officer in 2011. She explained she chose this career thinking it would be a good fit for the future family she plans on having.

After graduating from the Academy, she remained on station to work as a Diversity Recruiter for the Academy’s Admissions Office.  Shortly after, she attended Undergraduate Cyber Training at Keesler Air Force Base with a follow on assignment to Shephard Air Force Base, Texas.

White is now a captain stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, serving as the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron Cyber Operations flight commander.

“Honestly I never saw myself joining the Air Force, let alone becoming an officer,” White said.

Reflecting back, White emphasized how much it meant to her to be the first in her family to graduate from college and become an officer in the military. Since joining the Air Force, two of her cousins were motivated to enlist in the military.

“It means a lot that she joined the Air Force,” said Jeanette Moore, White’s mother. “She’s definitely a role model for the family and those in her community. Her success in the Air Force proves you can achieve great things if you work hard and stay focused.”

Throughout her life, White’s inspiration has been her mom.

“My mom has gone through a lot in life,” White said. “She took care of three kids by herself with a middle school education. To see her take every obstacle that has been thrown at her and overcome it is amazing. When I remember everything she’s gone through, my issues don’t even compare. I tell myself, if she was able to do all those things, then so can I.”

For those in her childhood neighborhood, she emphasizes the importance of having an education. It freed her from poverty.

“When I joined the military, it changed my life,” White said. “It presented me with so many opportunities I probably would have never had this chance if I stayed in my town.”

While making it out of her old neighborhood was a blessing for her, White shared the importance of remembering the past and all those who contributed to her success. She also feels it is crucial to have diversity in the military.

“Everybody brings a little bit of something from their backgrounds,” White said. “When there’s a problem, and the people who contribute to solving problems come from multiple backgrounds, the solutions will tend to be different, which is a great thing. We can all bring something to the table.”

One piece of advice White has for her fellow Airmen is whenever faced with an obstacle, the first thing to remember is everything is a temporary state. She emphasized the importance of leaning on one another and having resources, whether it be family, friends or faith to reach out to.

“Do not let the possibility of ‘no’ keep you from achieving your goals,” White said. “If you ever want to change your current state, know that you have the power to do so.”