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Defining my future: Airman faces adversity, instils tenacity

Staff Sgt. Joseph Clark, 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew chief, poses in front of an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Eielson Air Force Base, June 22, 2021. Clark decided to join the military to provide a better life for his family and get away from Brooklyn, New York, to avoid criminal activity. He uses his experiences of when he first joined the military to promote a culture of being inclusive so everyone feels accepted. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov)

Staff Sgt. Joseph Clark, 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew chief, poses in front of an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Eielson Air Force Base, June 22, 2021. Clark decided to join the military to provide a better life for his family and get away from Brooklyn, New York, to avoid criminal activity. He uses his experiences of when he first joined the military to promote a culture of being inclusive so everyone feels accepted. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov)

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

“Growing up you're told you’re not going to make it past 16 and if you did then that’s a miracle,” Staff Sgt. Joseph Clark, 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew chief. “I wanted to make sure I made it past 16.”

Clark grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Gangs and drugs were all around, but he didn’t want to go down that road.

“I was with a group of friends, where we decided that it was better to die in the military, than die going to the corner store and get called a gang banger,” he said.

Not only aiming to preserve his own life, honoring Clark’s cousin, who died in the twin towers on 9/11, also played a role in his decision to enlist.

Clark said he first decided to join the Army, but was rejected due to prior arrests. He faced rejection from every branch until he spoke to an Air Force recruiter.

After a four year waiver process, Clark was finally able to enlist.

“When I first came in a lot of people told me I didn’t belong here,” he added. “I had a security manager say I didn’t belong in his Air Force, and it made me think I wouldn’t last my first enlistment,” Clark said. “ But I’ve seen a lot of changes since I’ve been in, and a lot of the changes are for the better.”

Despite going through adversity in the beginning of his career, Clark is now on his third enlistment. He empowers his team to execute the mission, while also leading with empathy, and treating every Airman with dignity and respect.

“I've known him for a little over three years and he’s a very good individual,” said Master Sgt. Jacob Maldonado, 80th AMU quality assurance inspector. “He always tries to be the best supervisor and a good role model. Anytime Airmen have any type of problems he has always been there to help them through everything. He’s very loyal and passionate about what he does.”

Clark’s main motivation for everything he does is his wife, Betina, and his two kids, Bella and Maximus.

“I think my job, especially now as an noncommissioned officer, is for Airmen coming into the military to not see or feel what I went through,” Clark said. “My kids might come into this [Air Force] so I definitely want to leave it better than what I came into. If I can make the world better by doing things or taking care of people who might make those changes in the future, then I did my job and I did my job for my kids. They’re my soul.”

The Air Force provided him opportunities he’d never had if he hadn’t joined. Clark travelled, met diverse people, and worked with different countries in a joint environment. Clark believes an inclusive Air Force can better accomplish its mission of fly, fight and win… airpower anytime, anywhere.

“We’re not just representing ourselves, or our last names; we’re representing a whole country,” he stated. “To be the best America, and to be the best Air Force, we need to branch out and include everybody so they can feel accepted.”

Clark is proud of the direction the Air Force is going with diversity and inclusion, including the recent recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. He’s especially proud, though, of the way the Air Force has shaped his life.

“I felt like the Air Force helped define me as the man I am today,” said Clark. “I’m a proud father, husband and I’m proud to be a weapons troop. I’m proud to be in the United States Air Force.”