Airman Portrait: Air Force gives Keesler instructor path to success

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Many little girls dream of being a teacher, a doctor, a rock star ... maybe even an engineer. But the only ambition Rita Lopez-Collins had was to remain alive.
Today, that little girl is Tech. Sgt. Rita Watson, an instructor in the 335th Training Squadron.

"My parents forced me to join the Air Force," admitted Watson, who grew up in Fayetteville, N.C. "I'm just a girl who began down the wrong path in life. I didn't care about anything - I had no goals or ambition. If I hadn't joined the military, who knows? The way I was living my life almost assured that I'd no longer be alive if it wasn't for the Air Force."
Her parents, both Army veterans, thought the structure and discipline of the military would save their rebellious daughter. They were right.

"My parents are my heroes," said Watson, who's been assigned to Keesler for 3½ years. "They've been married for more than 30 years and never gave up on me. They ensure that I know I'm the most important person in their lives and motivate me to reach for the stars."

A strong emphasis on learning and teamwork gave the Watson the direction and tools for success.

During 13 years in the Air Force, she's also been stationed at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and Maxwell AFB, Ala. She's held a variety of positions in military personnel sections and served as the executive assistant to the 81st Training Wing command chief before resuming her current duties.

Watson is a DCAPES instructor, short for deliberate crises action planning execution segments.

"DCAPES is a system used by personnel, logistics and manpower throughout the entire deployment process," she explained. Watson has been deployed to Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

For Watson, helping others is one of the most rewarding parts of being an Airman.

"There are so many people in the Air Force who lack knowledge of many subjects," she pointed out. "I enjoy helping them find information that will guide them through tough times and along the path of success in their careers."

Watson advises her students to set goals and work toward achieving them.
"I remind them that anything is possible and reiterate the importance of educating themselves, not just with school, but with policies as well," she stated. "Don't just accept anyone's word - get familiar with the Air Force instructions and regulations and take your career in your own hands. Seek great mentors and pick their brains for information. Surround yourself with others who have goals and are working to attain them just as you are."

Watson said, "I started feeding myself knowledge when I entered the Air Force."
Since then, she's earned associate degrees in human resources and instruction of military science from the Community College of the Air Force, a bachelor's degree in business administration from Park University and a master's degree in human resources from Trident University.

Watson sought strong mentors to guide her professional pursuits. She credits retired Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Turner, retired Master Sgt. Ralph Bush and her current supervisor, Master Sgt. Anthony Boles, with her recent selection for promotion to master sergeant. She expects to pin on her new rank in the spring.

Her drive to become a wealthy woman and to live "the good life" is a little easier to understand when people learn she's had a checking account since she was 8 years old.

"Financial stability has always been instilled in me by my parents," Watson insisted. "No one wants to struggle, so if you have multiple steams of income and can save money, you are better prepared."

Building an independent business outside of the Air Force is part of her financial plan.

"My goals include being promoted as much as possible, starting another business in 2015 to prepare for retirement, and retiring in 2020," she outlined. "I might work toward my doctorate or possibly attend fashion school, my passion."

"Rita has never met a stranger," said Melva Kroll, who worked with Watson in the wing command section. "She is fun, smart, and can make you laugh across the room in a meeting full of people. It was a terrible day when she left the front office to go back to the podium. She was going just across the street, but it was never going to be the same in the office without her.

"She gave me snippets of her life growing up and eventually let me know it wasn't a walk in the park," Kroll continued. "I wanted her to share her story with at-risk girls so they know there's another life out there - with God, hard work and dedication, there's nothing you can't do.

"This girl is on fire, and there's not a person out there who will put her out until she's ready," she added. "I admire her more than she'll ever know."
Watson had to face the back-to-back deaths of four loved ones in 2011 and 2012. One was her fiancé who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

"Those were the worst years of my life," she remembered. "I wanted to give up. I had to pray and recollect myself and get back to work. I had to smile through the pain and not question why things happen."

Watson says that loyalty is her most important personality trait.

"I'm one of the most loyal people around, from family to friends to leadership," she stressed.

That loyalty is reflected in Staff Sgt. Angel White, an instructor in the 336th TRS. They've been best friends since 2004, when they were stationed together at Maxwell.

"Rita is the epitome of a go-getter," White said. "She is the most caring, grounded and smartest woman I know. She's very driven in her professional and personal life.

"Rita is a prankster," White continued. "You'd think we'd be hip to her antics by now, but she always seems to amaze. I love Rita as a sister and I'm blessed to know her and be a part of her life."

Watson and her husband, Shawn, were married in April.

"Marriage means now I have someone else to share things with, to build an empire with and to love for eternity," she said.

Family means the world to Watson, and being 12 hours away from her relatives and friends in North Carolina while stationed at Keesler has been difficult for her. That's one of the reasons she's excited about her upcoming assignment as customer service superintendent of the military personnel section at Charleston AFB, S.C.

"I'll be closer to my parents so I can finally do things and attend events that I haven't been able to do for the last 13 years," she added.