KOKOMO, Ind. — Julia Person describes herself as “a glorified gas station attendant.”
However, that description would only be apt if your average gas station could fly at a speed of 530 miles per hour at 30,000 feet above the earth, and carry up to 322,000 pounds of fuel.
As a crew chief for the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Julia is responsible for maintaining a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft older than her own mother, keeping it available to refuel other military aircraft safely.
“Being in the reserves has given me stability and a full time job,” she said, adding that she works at the Grissom Air Reserve Base as a civilian during the week, in addition to her required one weekend per month and two weeks per year.
“I’ve been able to own a home, and buy a new car, and I’m in school because of the reserves,” Julia said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise.”
Earning her degree from Indiana University Kokomo opens more doors for her military career. After graduating in May, she can commission as an officer in the reserves, which leads to more opportunities.
“I couldn’t do any of the things I want to do without my degree,” she said. “It’s so big. I’m really excited to be at the point that I’ve finally graduated.”
Julia, 32, plans to continue her education in the future, earning a Master of Library Science. Her goal is to be a historian, in the military or with the federal government.
“My dream job is to be an archivist,” she said. “I want to be the person to go to when people need to find tidbits of information, or documents. I want to be the person who can put my hands on that and find it. I love books, and I love information.”
The degree has been a long time coming for her. She graduated from high school in Battle Creek, Michigan, and earned an associate degree from a nearby community college.
“Then I took a semester off, which was a terrible life decision, because I didn’t go back until seven years later,” Julia said. “But it did give me a lot of life and work experience.”
She worked as a shift manager at a fast food franchise, as a barista and bartender at a small café, and as a pharmacy tech, a job that made her miserable.
“I worked for awhile and realized I wasn’t really doing much with my life,” Julia said. Her parents both served, and she decided being a reservist would give her a chance to make more of her life. The financial assistance to return to college for a four-year degree appealed to her.
She chose to be a crew chief, or aircraft mechanic, because the training was the longest available, and she wanted a break from her pharmacy tech job. Much to her surprise, she had an aptitude for the work.
“It turns out I really liked being a mechanic,” she said. “It was not something that was even in the back of the back of my head. It’s given me awesome opportunities to travel to Okinawa, Hawaii, Guam, Germany, and England. Anytime the planes go, we have to go, too.”
She’s attended school part-time, studying history and political science at IU Kokomo while working full-time at the base and commuting from Carmel. Her love of storytelling and collecting and saving information led to her degree choice.
“I like stories, which is how I started out studying literature,” Julia said. “I like real stories. I like to know why people do things, and how events progressed. History is perfect for that.”
She looks forward to Commencement on May 9, where she will induct the graduating class into the IU Alumni Association.
“Being part of the ceremony means something to me,” she said. “It connects me to the rest of the class. I’m thrilled, and really proud of myself. It wasn’t easy to get to this point.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana