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RIC Air Force Veteran Tracey Ginaitt ’18 (right) with her daughter who also joined the Air Force ranks.

In 1991 Tracey Ginaitt '18, with an M.A. in nursing, was a student at Rhode Island College who felt uncertain about her future. 

"I was a psychology major and didn't really know if that was what I wanted to do," she recalls. 

Eventually, she began contemplating enlisting in the Army. Her father, who was drafted to serve during the Vietnam War, nipped that plan in the bud. 

"'No daughter of mine is going to go into the Army,'" Ginaitt remembers her father saying. "That's when I turned to the Air Force."

Twenty-seven years later, Ginaitt says joining the Air Force and subsequently, the Rhode Island Air National Guard, turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made. These days, the retired veteran now works as a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital and dispenses advice to young people who may find themselves where she was back then: uncertain about their future and considering the military as an option.

She harkens back to her initial Air Force days, which she says were jarring.

"I remember getting off the bus for basic training and thinking, 'What am I doing?''' she says. "I kept my head down and did my best to remain open to learning, but I wasn't used to being told when to wake up, when to eat and why I couldn't do what I wanted. It was a jolt to my system. However, once I got my uniform, it became real for me."

Ginaitt, who trained to become a medic and served in active duty from 1991 to 1997, says she eventually settled into the groove of military life.

"What I appreciated most was the camaraderie," she says. "For military people, you could be doing an exercise that may seem like a foreign concept to a civilian, but you have such a good time doing it with others who understand. Being in the military is truly like a brother or sisterhood."

She says her bond with other Airmen deepened after one particular Thanksgiving when she was deployed in Kuwait.

"That Thanksgiving remains special to me because we were a group of Airmen from different parts of America who came together and ate as a family," she says. "We played football before dinner, prepared turkey on a grill and had to make do with whatever else we had. It was easily my best Thanksgiving ever."

Another memorable moment for Ginaitt was when she returned to Lackland Air Force Base, the Texas base where incoming airmen go through basic training, to see her daughter join the Air Force ranks.

"When I got to the new barracks, it was interesting to see that some things don't change," she says. "The beds were lined up the same, and the shoes, too. I was also proud of my daughter, who once said she'd never follow in my footsteps in the Air Force. Now, she and her husband are both active-duty members."

Ginaitt made the transition from being a medic in the Air Force to nursing, earning degrees at the Community College of Rhode Island, Community College of the Air Force, a bachelor's degree in nursing at Jacksonville University and a master's degree in nursing with a concentration in public and community health from RIC. She retired from the Rhode Island Air National Guard in 2017.

"The military has given me four college degrees, a wealth of experience I wouldn't have otherwise and a civilian career,'' Giniatt says. "I embarked on this journey as a shot in the dark initially, but I'm fortunate to say military life worked out. However, I tell younger people who ask me about enlisting to do their research, use every opportunity afforded to them from education to volunteering, and to make sure it's right for them. This isn't a job you can just walk away from."