U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- An officer started her career as an enlisted Airman but thanks to a commissioning program, is now a second lieutenant, serving in the Academy admissions office where she counsels possible future officers.
More than six years ago, Airman Lelia Abdulrazaq realized during a combat dining-in that she wanted to become an officer.
The then-enlisted supply technician approached a lieutenant in her squadron to ask about commissioning options and was soon introduced to the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program, which offers about 170 appointments to the Academy and the Academy Prep School each year. Abdulrazaq never looked back.
The LEAD program was created in 1995 to give commanders the chance to nominate qualified airmen to attend the Academy or Prep School.
However, Abdulrazaq's Air Force story didn't begin with her commissioning, it began in 2005 when she moved from Nigeria to the U.S. and attended college. After receiving her first college bill, she said she knew something had to change and decided to enlist.
Her recruiter stressed the benefits the Air Force offers and Abdulrazaq was sold. Abdulrazaq's first assignment was at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Later after determining her eligibility for the LEAD program, she waded through the necessary paperwork and applied.
"I didn't know who at admissions thought I was qualified because my scores were really low," she said.
Abdulrazaq was accepted to the Prep School and then continued on at the Academy. Though she said the experience was difficult at times, she also said she wouldn't change a thing because the alternative in her home country was simply not an option.
"In Nigeria, there is less emphasis on education for women," she said. "It's not that we don't go to school, a lot of people go to school. It's more that a lot of people don't focus on carving out a life unique to you that is unlike everyone else. The position I am in right now, the education I received here, it's impossible for you to get that there."
Airman interested in the LEAD program should apply, Abdulrazaq said.
"I would say that motivation has to come from you," she said. "If you want to take this path, you have to earn it. It's going to be a tough five years (Prep School and Academy) but if you know it's what you want, then it's not over until you say it's over."
Abdulrazaq will move to her second assignment at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., this summer, to serve as a contracting officer.
Airmen eligible for the LEAD program should complete an Air Force Form 1786, submit an online application (pre-candidate questionnaire), and contact their base education office for assistance.