SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
As the 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central)/Financial Management superintendent, Master Sgt. Traci Coston is at the top of her game. She is responsible for funding the staff operations of 9th AF (AFCENT) at Shaw, but her scope extends far past that. Coston also ensures that all air operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility are funded fully and properly.
“As our superintendent, Master Sgt. Coston ensures all financial and budget capabilities operate at the highest caliber for the 9 AF (AFCENT) enterprise,” said Lt. Col. Samuel Jun, 9 AF (AFCENT) Financial Management & Comptroller director.
“Without her, we have no oversight on all matters finance and budget in our area of responsibility. Just to name a few of those matters: funding bottled water; utility bills; base defense security contracts; logistics support area upgrade projects; morale, welfare and readiness functions; dining facility contracts; foreign currency exchange service and so much more. She is our invisible hero! There is nothing we can do without our superintendent because she is that good at what she does!”
However, while Coston is thriving today, she would not have been able to say the same four years prior.
Then-Staff Sgt. Traci Coston was at rock bottom. Recently-divorced, significantly indebted, and now raising her four girls on her own, divorce court issued her a crushing blow: her ex-husband would be receiving half of her future retirement pay.
“I went into a pit of despair, realizing that I am going to have to work the rest of my life,” Coston said.
More than the financial effects of the decision, though, there was an emotional weight to the situation.
“I felt a lot of shame because I just didn’t hear a lot of women talking about their ex-husbands getting half of their retirement.”
Moving forward, Coston knew she had to make some changes.
“First, I surrounded myself with positive people and let my tribe know what was going on inside. Once I started letting people know my goals and dreams, my tribe made sure they checked up on me. If they thought I was going astray, they reminded me of my goals and supported me to meet and exceed them.
I realized that I don’t have to trash all my hopes and dreams.”
With the support of her friends, she pinned on master sergeant stripes in January 2020. However, new rank did not shield her from the biggest financial hurdle: paying off $36,000 in student loan and credit card debt.
“At the beginning of the new year, I had moved to Shaw, had my new rank, and I knew it was time to get rid of the debt. More than that, though, I want to be an example for my girls, show them that they can do anything. I want to be the best example of a woman that they have.”
With the encouragement of her kids and by buckling down, Coston paid off the debt in just 14 months.
Though she paid off her debt entirely, Coston was not done paying it forward.
“I want my story to be a blessing for others. I know that there is someone else out there who has a similar story, and they don’t hear anyone else talking about it. If I can give them a piece of hope then that’s what I want to do.”
On the public side, Coston was able to share her story on “The Ramsey Show,” offering hope to millions of listeners who may also be facing the same struggles she had faced.
The Financial Management shop celebrated with her upon her return.
“Knowing the incredible professionalism, devotion to duty, and passion for helping others that Master Sgt. Coston brings to the team, it’s even more incredible to know how hard she worked to reach her personal milestones by setting an awesome example for others to follow. We are extremely proud to have her on our team,” said Jun.
Sparked by her personal experience and resilience, Coston is also paying it forward more privately through financial coaching, having completed her financial coaching master’s certification in personal finance.
“Financial coaching is now a passion of mine. Now that I’ve gotten through it, I want to help others get through it, too.”