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Storytellers: Against the Odds

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Sabra Waggoner, Vosler NCO Academy administrator, is the founder of the Speak Up program at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. After going through and overcoming a crisis of her own, Waggoner created the program as a way for people to reach out and talk about any problems they might be having in their lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Kotecki)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Sabra Waggoner, Vosler NCO Academy administrator, is the founder of the Speak Up program at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. After going through and overcoming a crisis of her own, Waggoner created the program as a way for people to reach out and talk about any problems they might be having in their lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Kotecki)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A few days before Christmas of 2015, Senior Airman Sabra Waggoner, Vosler NCO Academy administrator, walked into her first sergeant’s office and told him she had decided to kill herself. She had been thinking about it and set a date and time. This began a new fight for herself, and she was used to fighting.

When Waggoner came into this world, the odds were stacked against her from the beginning. Born in a prison, addicted to heroin and to a mother who was pimped out by her father, one could only guess what course her life would take. Statistics from a Department of Justice report suggest a 40 percent chance that she would end up addicted to drugs or with a criminal record herself.

She credits her resilience of not becoming a statistic to an inner strength to overcome her current conditions, a will to fight she’s had all her life.

Along with her younger sister, Waggoner was bounced from foster home to foster home. By the time she was 4 years old she had lived in three different homes. In the last home, she and her sister suffered “every kind of abuse,” she said.

“I grew up really quick, trying to protect her and keep her safe in that environment,” Waggoner said about life in a foster home.

At 4 ½ years old, she was adopted into a permanent family. While it was more stable, it still wasn’t the best situation.

“There were a few cases of physical abuse from my mom, but we didn’t do anything about it because we didn’t want to end up back in the adoptive system,” she said.

After living there for almost 14 years, things at home didn’t improve. Her adoptive mother became unfaithful to her adoptive father and things were always tense in the house. Waggoner decided to run away.

“I went to school one day and never went back,” Waggoner said.

It was at that point when she met her future husband. She married him as soon as she graduated high school. She felt that she finally got to a place where she was happy. She had survived so much and finally got the life she wanted.

Her life was finally stable enough she began to think about the future instead of just focusing on the here and now. She yearned to be part of something greater than herself and decided to join the Air Force.

After completing basic training she thought she was set. She was thinking about having kids and was ready to move forward. Unfortunately, things didn’t work as planned. She and her husband were already in a long distance marriage and he seemed to be growing apart from her.

The divorce hit her hard. After months of trying to reconcile, she felt like she was losing control of her life.

“I guess it was the feeling of abandonment and loss that brought me back to my childhood. I felt like I wasn’t in control anymore,” said Waggoner.

She felt like the only thing she could control was her life. It was with this thought that she decided to take her own life.

She set a date in her head. New Year’s Eve.

Before going through with it, she felt the need to talk to someone. That someone was her supervisor and mentor, Master Sgt. Craig Hatcher, Vosler NCO Academy director of operations and first sergeant.

Hatcher said he wasn’t totally surprised.

“Just from knowing her and talking to her on a daily basis, I knew she was going through a rough patch,” he said.

They talked and worked through it before going to mental health and Waggoner was checked into the hospital at Ft. Carson. Hatcher talked with her as a person and friend, and not as a supervisor to his subordinate.

“I think 60 percent of it was Craig, myself, and about 40 percent was Master Sgt. Hatcher watching out for his Airman,” he said, when he thinks about how he helped her.

“I’ve learned that sometimes all someone needs is someone to talk to. You don’t even need to say anything back. You just need to listen,” said Hatcher.

Waggoner got the help she needed.

“Sometimes it isn’t about doing it all yourself. There are going to be situations that you can’t tackle all yourself,” said Hatcher.

After getting the help she needed through the Air Force to continue her fight, she wanted to help others with difficult situations they might be facing. She created the Speak Up initiative.

Speak Up is a program, organized through the Junior Enlisted Association, for people who are “going through similar situations or just hard times in general. It gives them someone to talk to in a relaxed environment,” said Waggoner. They hold monthly meetings in which people can come and share their stories or any personal grief they’re having.

For more information, call 556-8143.

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