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From dolls to gloves: martial arts inspires pledge to serve

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, punches a training bag in Sumter, S.C., Nov. 19, 2015. Cossaboom started training in martial arts when she was 4 years old. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, punches a training bag in Sumter, S.C., Nov. 19, 2015. Cossaboom started training in martial arts when she was 4 years old. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, punches a training bag in Sumter, S.C., Nov. 19, 2015. Cossaboom trained in multiple types of martial arts including jiu-jitsu, kudo, and mixed martial arts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, punches a training bag in Sumter, S.C., Nov. 19, 2015. Cossaboom trained in multiple types of martial arts including jiu-jitsu, kudo, and mixed martial arts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- A 4-year-old girl carefully ties a little white belt over her top trying to get the knot just right, showing even more care and precision than she did with the bow she fixed in her hair the previous day. Her nervous, but anxious fingers straighten the white gi she proudly wears, taking place of her pink shirt and floral pants.

She softly and eagerly makes her way to the dojo. Showing respect by bowing before entering the room, bowing at the dojo-kun, then bowing before stepping onto the mats.

Fast forward 21 years. The discipline and precision I learned at that very young age has not only affected my demeanor, but greatly influenced my calling to serve and protect my country.

Setting Barbie dolls and stuffed animals aside, I dedicated my time to training and learning to not only protect myself, but the people I cared for.

My protective nature stems from the household I grew up in. A mere four walled structure that couldn't become a home due to the constant fear of my abusive father. Martial arts class became a safe haven where I felt in control.

Martial arts enhanced my confidence. It gave me the courage to stick up to my father and deal with the tidal wave of anger he directed towards my brother and me after my parents divorced. More importantly, it drove me to the path of service to my country.

I began seriously thinking about serving in the military when a West Point recruiter talked to my seventh grade class. From that point forward the thought of dedicating my life to serve my country and protect my family stuck like a burr to my brain.

In high school I started to get all of my ducks in a row. However, I was still trying to overcome the abuse my family and I went through. It took some time, but eventually I was able to bring my grades up and plan for my future.

I wanted to join the military, specifically the Air Force, so that I could combine my love of martial arts and my desire to protect those around me with the passion I had to serve my country.

My mother was concerned that after I signed up for the military, I would decide that it wasn't for me, so I made a promise to receive my college degree first. I couldn't have made a better decision.

I hit many bumpy roads along the way. People constantly said I wouldn't make it or that I wasn't smart enough. Yet, through the dedication, determination, and discipline that was instilled in me through martial arts I have proved all of them wrong.

I continued my education in martial arts as I finished my bachelor's degree. The combination of martial arts and political science classes solidified my devotion to serve and protect.

While in the Air Force it has been difficult to consistently continue education in martial arts. To stay proficient in my craft I still consistently train at home or at the gym.

I know my younger self who was so determined at such an early age would be proud of the decisions and accomplishments I've made that got me where I am today.