FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Air Force Staff Sgt. Deondra Parks walked across the stage in the Medical Education & Training Campus (METC) auditorium at Fort Sam Houston, Texas to receive her certificate of completion for the Basic Medical Technician/Corpsman Program amid enthusiastic cheers and applause. She almost had to give up her dream of completing her training nearly as soon as she started when her life took a tragic turn a year and a half ago. Overcoming that tragedy, she proudly accepted the rolled-up scroll she earned more than others might well know.
The night of April 20, 2010 forever changed Parks' life. She was shot - twice - the victim of a hate crime while studying with two classmates in a coffee shop book store in Wichita Falls, Texas. The first bullet grazed her face; the second shattered the bones in her lower leg. One of her companions was also shot.
Parks, a former member of the Air Force security forces, had just started training to become an aerospace medical technician at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls when she was wounded. Although her training came to a sudden halt that night, Parks worked hard to recover from her injuries so she could continue where she left off. It was a daunting setback that affected her physically and mentally, but that didn't stop her determination and drive.
"He tried to take away my new beginning, what I was starting for myself," Parks said of the man who shot her. "I knew I'd be back. It was just a matter of when."
Upon waking up after her first surgery following the shooting, she asked now-retired Air Force Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, then the commander of the Air Force Air Education and Training Command who was at her bedside, not to take away her training slot. He agreed that she could return, when she was ready.
Having endured four surgeries with another in her future and hours of painful physical therapy, Parks neared the breaking point and was ready to give up. With the encouragement of her leadership, family and friends she found the strength to continue.
"She is an example of resilience," said Lt. Col. Troy Roberts, Parks' former commanding officer at the 72nd Security Forces Squadron. Several times during physical therapy it did not look like her legs would recover enough. "That was her biggest challenge," recalled Roberts. "She never let this challenge get in her way."
Parks' request to keep her training slot was fulfilled when she arrived at METC in June to start again.
"Staff Sgt. Parks was a leader and mentor to the first term airmen in class," said Staff Sgt. Dorcas Stokes, one of Parks' Basic Medical Technician/Corpsman Program instructors at METC. "She was an awesome class leader. Wish there were more like her."
At her graduation on Oct. 3, Parks told the crowd in the auditorium, "Almost everything we learned in [METC] I've experienced firsthand. The training I learned in the security forces, my training in the Air Force, is why I'm here today."
"I finished something I started and have a new goal," she said. "I feel complete."