An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Resisting the comfort zone: 8th EAMS maintainer shares story of resilience

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Emma Quirk
  • 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing

What keeps you going?
Why do you always seem so happy?
Where do you get your positive attitude from?
How come you never complain?

These are questions that Staff Sgt. Antonio Lomeli II receives regularly. He attributes his values and hard-charging mentality to his mom. From an early age she taught him the importance of responsibility, integrity, and hard work.

She also taught him quitting was never an option.

Lomeli was born in the United States, but his family soon moved to Mexico to await his mother’s pending naturalization. Lomeli and his four siblings grew up in their mother’s birthplace of Juarez, Mexico.

“I was raised in one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” Lomeli shared. “My parents, along with my four other siblings, lived in a constant state of survival. We learned to take care of each other. As the oldest son, much of the responsibility was placed on my shoulders. Life for me was about staying away from the wrong people and places.”

Lomeli recalled murders, drug cartels, gang violence, child trafficking, and other crimes that took place as close as a few houses down the street.

As an arduous and honest worker, Lomeli contributed to and protected his family.

“My mother taught me the value of working hard without complaining, as it did no good and did not change our circumstances. She embodied what it is to be a hard worker,” he said.

After she graduated high school, his mother immediately went to work and often worked several jobs. She managed an apartment complex, owned a business making and selling cylinder blocks, and ran a restaurant.

“She taught me if I wanted anything, I had to earn it by working little jobs to obtain it,” he said.

“If the job was done incorrectly, she stood and watched over me to ensure I did it correctly,” Lomeli added. “It taught me the value of honesty and excellence in my work duties.”

After years of hard work, and as crime rates rose around them, Lomeli’s parents saved enough money to send him and his siblings to live with his paternal grandparents.

Lomeli experienced many transitions at once: from elementary school to middle school, from Mexico to the U.S., and from living with his parents to living apart. All the while, he felt himself responsible for his younger siblings, who also navigated the separation from their parents and the standard growing pains.

During this difficult transition, Lomeli found himself getting into trouble and fights at school. But, as always, he persevered.

In high school, he took advantage of an early graduation program that allowed him to fast-track his credits by packing his schedule with early morning and late afternoon classes in addition to the regular curriculum.

He didn’t have his own vehicle, so he would depend on friends for rides. But these rides were not pro bono.

“I would help my friends fix their cars and trucks in return for rides to where I needed to go,” he said. “I feel that this is where my passion for cars began.”

He graduated from high school at sixteen years old and went straight to college.

“As I entered higher education, I failed out of many classes and realized that school was not for me,” Lomeli said. “However, not going to school was out of the question for my mother.”

His mother identified his passion and skills in vehicle maintenance and noticed that he was a hands-on learner, rather than a textbook learner.

With only one-hundred dollars in her hands, she enrolled her son in a vocational school to receive an associate’s degree in automotive technology.

Lomeli graduated at the top of his class with honors and was hired at a family-owned body shop. He later moved on to a larger car dealership in the service department.

“Over time, there was something within me calling me to something bigger,” he said. “I told myself that I would prove that I was capable and deserved a place to work in the dealership.”

He sought a challenge and wanted to apply his maintenance skills to something a bit larger: airplanes.

He shared his interest for aircraft maintenance with his neighbor, a soldier in the U.S. Army, who urged Lomeli to consider joining the U.S. Air Force.

At 30 years-old, Lomeli set out to become an Airman. “I started to research job descriptions in the Air Force and discovered I could meet my desire to grow, work on airplanes, and serve my country all at the same time,” Lomeli said.

“One would assume it would be easy, but my age made it that much more difficult,” he said. “I had multiple setbacks due to poor financial decisions and my recruiter at that time said that the chances of getting accepted were slim to none.”

Despite hardships in the recruiting process and being told “no,” Lomeli continued to pursue an enlistment in the military.

“I decided to not give up,” Lomeli said. “I went to a different city and met another recruiter who helped me to finally get accepted into the USAF as a maintainer.”

Within the last five years in service, Lomeli has vowed to take every opportunity to grow, change, and be the best Airmen he can be.

He was once placed as the Due-in For Maintenance (DIFM) monitor. This job was in an office, sitting at a desk and checking in parts.

His comfort zone and passion was on the flight line, not behind a desk. However, he accepted the new challenge as an opportunity to make a meaningful impact and contribution to the Air Force.

With less than three years working the flight line, he was offered the opportunity to become a flying crew chief (FCC).

Lomeli has proved time and time again that he did not shy away from a challenge, but his courage is balanced by his self-awareness to know when he isn’t quite ready to take something on. In this case, it meant declining the opportunity because he did not feel ready.

“I felt under prepared and decided to continue to work the flight line to gain more experience for future opportunities,” he said, “Although it was not my moment to be an FCC at that given time, I used the setback to try harder.”

When he did feel ready to take on the challenge of FCC, he suffered a torn ligament in his wrist. The surgery and recovery took him off the flight line for six months and further delayed his second chance as an FCC. He was placed into an office job, once again, this time as a training monitor.

“Even though surgery and recovery were unexpected,” he said, “I saw another opportunity to learn something new and contribute to the best of my abilities.”

He credits Airman Leadership School (ALS) and his promotion to staff sergeant as another period of immense growth and change.

“As I went through [ALS],” he said, “I discovered my position in the Air Force changed from being an Airman needing help, to being a leader driving a group of Airmen to excellence.”

Shortly after becoming a new staff sergeant, Lomeli deployed from the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron located on Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. A geographically separated unit under the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing.

The deployment once again placed him outside of his comfort zone, working as a shift lead.

“I quickly had to learn how both to manage the maintenance of aircraft on the flight line and to manage several Airmen and non-commissioned officers,” he said “I went from being only responsible for myself and my duties, to being responsible for an entire shift of Airmen who looked to me as their leader for guidance and support.”

While working the flight line, Lomeli set out to complete an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) license. While he did not pass on his first attempt, he was determined to master the material and obtain the license.

“I could have easily taken the moment to feel sorry for myself and give up,” he said. “Instead, I decided to work harder to obtain my license. They say that anything worth having takes hard work. Otherwise, everyone would have the one thing you are trying to achieve without sacrifice or hard work.”

His mentality and drive to excel in his career led him to pass the final exam and earn the license.

Lomeli was faced with multiple setbacks during his journey from childhood to an aircraft maintainer in the 8th EAMS – “Mighty Ocho.” Facing each obstacle, Lomeli overcame, cleared the hurdle, and sprinted to the next.

“I have not been perfect. I have struggled and worked extremely hard for everything I have achieved thus far, and it starts with an internal desire to achieve set goals,” said Lomeli. “All of these unique opportunities have molded me into who I am today. I have met each day on the flight line with positivity to ensure pilots, flight crews, and passengers have a safe and reliable aircraft.”

Lomeli relied on his resilience, determination, ambition, and a positive attitude to make his mark in this world.

“It takes resilience to keep moving forward,” he said, “but most of all the desire and grit to never give up. That is what my mom instilled in me, and she expects nothing less. As the saying goes, ‘mom always knows best.’”