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Airman helps others with pride

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kayla Betts, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron mental health technician, poses for a photo at the Keesler Medical Center on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 27, 2019. Betts uses her experiences as a member of the LGBT community in addition to her mental health training to assist her patients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly L. Mueller)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kayla Betts, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron mental health technician, poses for a photo at the Keesler Medical Center on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 27, 2019. Betts uses her experiences as a member of the LGBT community in addition to her mental health training to assist her patients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly L. Mueller)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

Staff Sgt. Kayla Betts, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron mental health technician, always smiles as she recounts her experience as a member of both the Air Force and LGBT community.

Around junior high, Betts noticed she felt she was different than others, but wasn’t sure why. In early high school Betts discovered she liked females.

“I dated a couple people behind the scenes, but I didn’t tell my parents or anything because I didn’t know how they would feel about it,” said Betts. “My parents did end up finding out midway through high school.”

Though Betts’ parents weren’t excited about the discovery, their love for their daughter surpassed their initial reaction and over the next couple months they accepted her for who she was. Betts said she feels grateful she had a good experience with coming out.

Betts attended college after high school, but didn’t feel it was her calling. One day, she found herself in a recruiter’s office.

“I went to my recruiter and we were doing the job selection process,” said Betts. “He had me make a list of ten jobs and with my cousin being in air traffic control it was my number one choice. I had mental health at number nine on the list.”

When the job listing was released, mental health was the only one on Betts’ list.

“I’m glad I got mental health because I’ve grown to love it,” said Betts. “I never thought talking to people would be something I’d be doing as a profession.”

In technical training Betts learned multiple skills that affect her daily life, such as coping skills, relaxation techniques and sleep hygiene.

“We spend a lot of time helping other people and sometimes you forget about yourself,” said Betts. “I have found myself telling someone to do something and wondering to myself, ‘why don’t I do that.’”

Betts started her mental health career at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, where she met her wife. They married in December 2016 in Enid, Oklahoma, Betts’ hometown.

“The wedding was real small, pretty much just my family,” said Betts. “My brother had gotten ordained just so he could marry us.”

After getting married, Betts was stationed here and continued to draw from her life experiences to help her patients.

“If you’re not a part of the LGBT community it’s not to say that you don’t understand or you can’t empathize, but I think having lived it myself helps,” said Betts. “If you have someone come in that’s LGBT and they’re having issues with it I can definitely help them because I’ve been through it and I know how it is.”

Betts has always felt she had supportive leadership when it comes to being LGBT, and believes that it is becoming more accepted and hope it continues that way.

“Some people say they haven’t had the best experience being gay and being in the military, but mine has been just the opposite,” said Betts. “People will ask me about my wife, our relationship and our story, but I’ve never had any issues and I’m very thankful because I know a lot of people can’t say the same.”