It’s no accident or coincidence that Jennifer Velásquez McCord is a UX Designer at Air Force CyberWorx. From a childhood desire to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, to the Naval Academy and a career in the Navy and Naval Reserves instead, then coming full circle to her current roles at the Air Force Academy, McCord looks back with 20/20 hindsight.
Desire to Serve: American Pride with Colombian Roots
AF CyberWorx (CWx): When did it first enter your mind that you wanted to serve in the military?
Jennifer Velásquez McCord (JVM): As cliché or as corny as it may sound, I felt I owed a lot to the United States for the opportunities I had, comparing my life to the lives of my cousins.
My parents are from Medellín, Colombia, and they migrated here to the U.S. in the early ’80s. I grew up speaking Spanish first and knew the Colombian culture—very much in the food we ate, the things we did, what we listened to. My mom is one of 11, my dad is one of eight, and several of my aunts and uncles still live in Colombia, so when I was younger, we went back and forth to visit.
For lack of a better term, there were restrictions, or caps, for my cousins. In Colombia, you are very much your socio-economic status. You are either raised in a family that has abundant wealth, or you are not. That really dictates where your choices are or what you do, whereas here in the United States, we had opportunities; we had scholarships. That is where my desire to serve in the military came from.
My parents instilled in us that you could make yourself anything you wanted. They raised my two younger brothers and me to know that they made a sacrifice to come to this country because of the American dream. I remember knowing it was this pride of being an American while also having Colombian cultural roots.
Blue Angels, Civil Air Patrol, and Letters to Congress
CWx: How did you end up at the Naval Academy?
JVM: In 6th grade, I went to one of my first air shows at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where we got to talk to different pilots. The Blue Angels performed, and it was really cool—Blue Angels, from the Navy side. There was also a program called the Civil Air Patrol, which is an auxiliary of the Air Force, and I joined that.
It’s interesting that now I find myself working here at the Air Force Academy, but I was in 6th grade and 12 years old when I first learned about the Air Force Academy. In that [Civil Air Patrol] program, I realized the service academy was something I wanted to do.
CWx: So at first, it was an interest in the Air Force Academy and not the Naval Academy?
JVM: I was looking at the Air Force Academy, and I was also meeting the Blue Angels [Navy] pilots who said, “It takes a real pilot to land on an aircraft carrier,” so I want to be the coolest pilot, right? The dream stemmed from there.
Interestingly enough, individuals in that Air Force program said, “Don’t limit yourself just to the Air Force Academy. Consider the other academies, like West Point and the Naval Academy.”
Fast-forwarding from there to seventh grade, eighth grade—I was writing to my Senators and Congressmen, saying, “This is what I want to do,” because you need their nominations [to enter the service academies]. I continued those letters through high school and applied to both the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.
From Rhode Island to Annapolis, Maryland