Air Force becomes a lifeline to future Airman

  • Published
  • By Charles J. Haymond
  • 55th Wing/Public Affairs

On Aug. 1, 2021, Master Sgt. Justin Bullman, 100th Communications Squadron, nominated Tech. Sgt. Kayla Greavu, 55th Strategic Communications Squadron, for the Enlisted Force Exhibit in the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. The exhibit is scheduled to open in early 2023. Visitors will learn the various responsibilities and technical skills required of enlisted Airmen and Guardians and how the Air Force has changed over its 75 year history.

Bullman heard Kayla’s story of dealing with mental illness and overcoming the odds when she came into the Air Force. Kayla was born in Malvern, Ohio, and she dealt with a lot of dark times growing up.

“I struggle with social anxiety and hereditary depression, so whenever my anxiety would get too bad it would kick off my depression,” Kayla said. “When I was younger, I didn’t know or have the words for what was wrong with me.”

Tiffany Greavu was 19 when she gave birth to Kayla, and the biological father was not in her life. Family members on her father’s side thought it was shameful to have a half Chinese and mixed child, especially since she was female. Tiffany fought her own inner turmoil as well.

“She also deals with a different form of depression, and life was rough on her as a single mom,” Kayla said. “In my eyes, this was my fault. She never blamed me but that didn’t stop me from thinking she should.”

Kayla's struggles with mental health and abandonment issues at a young age were only the beginning. Tiffany eventually married Kayla’s stepfather and her little brother was born a year later.

“To say me and my stepdad didn’t get along at first would be an understatement. We were like water and oil,” Kayla said. "He’d drink, we’d fight, and words were said. It never got physical, and he was a good dad when sober. But once he drank enough, everything wrong became my fault or somehow my responsibility.”

After battling problems at home, she hoped school would be a safe haven from her pain, but the feelings of abandonment only increased.

“I got bullied in school since I was half Asian and Malvern was a really small school with mostly white kids,” Kayla said. “The kids told me I was a terrorist and didn’t belong there. So nowhere felt safe and I started thinking that life would be better with me gone altogether.”

With all the negativity surrounding Kayla, she felt joining the Air Force was her last option to prove to herself that she was not useless. After graduating from high school, she packed her bags for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. 

“I remember a random military training instructor rushing us off the bus and yelling to pick up our bags, drop them in a different location, and then do it again,” Kayla said. “It was at that moment I wondered what I got myself into and thought that maybe it was a mistake.”  

After being overwhelmed in her new environment, it was her TI who would help her process and guide her through her challenging experiences. The instructor said something that still resonate with her today.

“He looked me in the eye and said ‘it’s not your fault.’ Such a small thing but that moment stunned me,” Kayla said. “He owed me nothing, yet here he was offering me what felt like redemption.”

The TI had a friend that experienced the same issues Kayla was expressing and knew how to build up her confidence. The TI and her flight helped her through basic. It was the support system she needed. Over time, she had supervisors and friends that would help during moments of instability.

“I’m a big advocate for therapy and for good reason,” Kayla said. “It helped me a lot once I convinced myself to go.”

With help, Kayla realized she is not the only person that struggles with mental difficulties, and they have helped her to grow through her problems.

“The Air Force as a whole started to move away from toxic environments, encouraging a more people first approach, and I got to be part of that change and it was easy to get behind that kind of message,” Kayla said.  

Tiffany is proud of the transformation she’s seen in her daughter as her Air Force career has progressed.

“Kayla has always been a bright, intellectual, quiet, stubborn, empathic and determined Scorpio,” Tiffany said. “She struggled to find her place in this crazy, beautiful and sometimes cruel world, which kept her my bookworm child, enjoying her life through the stories. She has since embraced all those amazing qualities that have always been her, but she has found a way to accept, love, respect and see her own worth.”

Kayla is now using her experience to pay it forward to others who are going through similar scenarios she had in her youth.

“If my experience could help someone like others helped me, then I could finally be useful. It had a purpose,” Kayla said.