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Parachutes line the tables as aircrew flight equipment specialists with the 4th Special Operations Squadron prepare to pack them at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. Aircrew flight equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Parachutes line the tables as aircrew flight equipment specialists with the 4th Special Operations Squadron prepare to pack them at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. Aircrew flight equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, checks the lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, checks the lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, checks the lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, checks the lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

The low-profile parachute is configured for use in AC-130 gunships, replacing the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

The low-profile parachute is configured for use in AC-130 gunships, replacing the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, packs the canopy of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. Aircrew flight equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, packs the canopy of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. Aircrew flight equipment specialists are responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures the suspension lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures the suspension lines of a low-profile parachute at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

Airman 1st Class Maria Perez, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, secures suspension lines for a low-profile parachute to a deployment bag at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 25, 2017. The LPP is configured for use in the AC-130 gunships and replaced the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

The low-profile parachute is configured for use in AC-130 gunships, replacing the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)
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The low-profile parachute is configured for use in AC-130 gunships, replacing the BA-22 parachute. The LPP weighs approximately 20 pounds, roughly half of the BA-22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --

On the morning of her son’s third birthday, a mother woke up and began her daily routine. Like other days, she started her day with a run on her treadmill. As she finished her run, she took a moment to regain her breath and watch the morning news.

The news that morning showed something she had never seen before.
Two aircraft were hijacked and flown into both the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. That moment gave her a feeling of violation, and it was that moment when Maria Perez knew she wanted to serve her country.

“That morning shook me from my regular routine,” Perez said. “Instead of taking Landon to daycare and heading straight to work, I actually went into the recruiter’s office.”

In order to enlist, Perez said she would have had to give up her parental rights temporarily, which as a single parent was something she wasn’t quite ready to do.

Fifteen years later, Perez was sure her opportunity to join the Air Force had slipped away, however a late night internet search would reveal the opposite.



I searched the age of enlistment and saw that it had changed to 39,” Perez said. “So when the opportunity came up, it didn’t take me long to get excited about it.”

Before making a decision, Perez spoke with her son about her desire to enlist.

“As he has grown up, he's heard me always talk about joining the Air Force, and when I told him about the age change, it didn't take him very long to respond,” Perez said. “He just blurted out 'Mom, go, you've always wanted to do this.'”

On March 15, 2016, at the age of 39, Perez left for basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, beginning her Air Force career.

“I'm here because I have wanted to serve since September 11th,” said the Airman 1st Class. “This is where I want to be, and it feels like this is where I should be.”

Now an aircrew flight equipment specialist working with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, Perez is responsible for maintaining flight equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and all life-saving equipment.

“Airman Perez brings the mindset of hard work and knowing what's important,” said Staff Sgt. Johnny Lewis, the NCO in charge of the aircrew flight equipment main section assigned to the 4th SOS. “She is one of those Airmen you always feel confident about going to and asking to complete a task.”