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Air Force Reserve Spouse Awarded Full-Tuition Scholarship

SNHU's Emily Devito presenting a plaque to Operation Homefront scholarship recipient Eliana Cornejo.

Eliana Cornejo’s parents wanted their children to have an opportunity to advance their education. She said that’s why they moved from Mexico to the U.S. when she was 8 years old.

Though Cornejo went to college directly after high school, her plans changed when she married her husband, Kevin, on the day he graduated from U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training. She became a military spouse at 20 years old and put her degree on hold when they were whisked away on orders to Las Vegas.

Nearly a decade later, Cornejo received a full-tuition scholarship to attend Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and finish what she started. This past weekend, at a Homefront Celebration for military spouses in San Antonio, she became the 25th military spouse to accept this scholarship through Operation Homefront and SNHU’s five-year partnership. 

Cornejo was shocked when she learned she was chosen as a recipient, and in the days leading up to the celebration, she was awhirl with emotions. “Like happy and nervous and excited at the same time,” she said.

Life as a Military Spouse: From Active Duty to the Reserves

When Cornejo put her degree on the back burner and left for Las Vegas as a young newlywed, she moved a thousand miles away from her family and friends. 

“Going through the challenges of ... being in a new marriage and a new city with no support system is definitely not easy,” she said. 

Her husband's role in the U.S. Air Force is one that prevents him from speaking about the work he does. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to help him when I don’t know how to help him,” she said. But, in their 10 years together, she’s found ways to be there for him without knowing the details.

Eliana Cornejo with her husband and 2 childrenThough the military lifestyle has offered some unique challenges, there are many aspects Cornejo thoroughly enjoys. It’s allowed her to stay at home with their two children – Rafael, 6, and Milania, 3 – and watch them grow up. “It has been such a blessing,” she said. “I haven’t missed anything from the kids. I’ve seen them walk, their first words, everything.”

She’s also grateful for the healthcare benefits. She didn’t have to stress about the financial aspect of giving birth, and if she or her children get sick, she doesn't have to think about the medical bills. “We don’t have to worry about anything,” she said.

A few years ago, her husband stepped out of active duty and into the Air Force Reserve, where he still works on active orders today. “It’s basically the same thing except that we take orders where we want to,” Cornejo said.

Without hesitation, they decided to return to San Antonio, where both of their families live. Now they have a house together, and their children get to see their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents all the time. 

Despite being back home with her family, Cornejo still surrounds herself with other military spouses she’s met through squadron outings with her husband and events like the Homefront Celebration.

“In Las Vegas, I met some amazing friends that I still have today,” she said. To their surprise, two of those friends found their way to San Antonio on reassignment.

“We kind of came back together,” she said. “... When we lived in Las Vegas, we were just married, no kids, and now we’re, like, married by 10 years and with little kids who are the same age. So, it’s pretty amazing.”

The Perfect Time to Finish What She Started

When Cornejo put her degree on hold to support her husband's military goals, she knew she’d be back. “I know my mom was a little sad when I decided to pause school and be a wife and mom,” she said, “But in my heart, I was like, “it’s going to happen one day when it’s supposed to happen.”

When this scholarship opportunity came to pass, she knew it was the right moment for her. With her husband wrapping up a degree that will help him advance in the military and her youngest heading to preschool this fall, she’ll have time to focus on her education again. Plus, going to school online will ensure she’s still able to be there for her kids whenever they need her. 

Cornejo's going to pursue her bachelor’s in business administration in hopes of working for her growing church one day. She’s always had a passion for helping people and knows the church could extend its reach into the community if only they had a little more help on the business side of things. 

Her family was thrilled to hear that she'd be returning to school. When she shared the news with her brother, he told her their father, who passed away a few years ago, would have been so happy. 

A Night to Celebrate

SNHU's Senior Director of Military Initiatives Emily DeVito presented Cornejo with the full-tuition scholarship for an online degree program.

“We have such a large military-affiliated community at SNHU, and we’re able to hear so many stories about what drove military spouses to become students and also how they succeeded through their education," DeVito said. "That just continues to motivate us to know what we do matters."

Military spouse attendees posing and holding signs at the Operation Homefront eventCornejo wasn’t the only one celebrating this weekend. One hundred other spouses from the San Antonio area –mostly affiliated with the U.S. Army and Air Force – came together, enjoyed camaraderie, a sumptuous meal and danced the night away at the Elian Hotel and Spa for the first of several Homefront Celebrations this year.

DeVito said she loves partnering with Operation Homefront on events like this because they're a way to empower spouses and thank them through action.

In addition to a DJ who kept the music going throughout the evening, there were s’mores stations to indulge in and more than a dozen door prizes given away, from date night kits to beauty products.

After dinner, guest speaker Brittany Boccher, the 2017 Military Spouse of the Year, shared some of her experiences. Her focus is on helping other military spouses discover their "spark" and ensure they realize their own dreams are important, too.

Operation Homefront attendees sitting at a table and talking“Our military spouses sacrifice so much that they don’t really sometimes have something that’s just for them. And this is just for them. To recognize them. To honor them,” Jenny Valderas, director of Family Support Services at Operation Homefront, said. Being in San Antonio made the night extra special since it’s where the first Homefront Celebration took place years ago.

Since being a military spouse can be isolating, especially in a city as large as this, Valderas said the goal of the event is to help spouses build connections and a support system. “You need someone that understands what you’re going through, and no one knows that better than another military spouse,” she said.

Cornejo is inspired by the community around her, especially by those who have gone on to earn a degree while maintaining a supportive role for the family. “We have our own life too, our own goals that we have to chase after,” she said. “... I’ve seen so many other wives put themselves through college and university and graduate and be successful in their jobs. Like, yes, I can do it too.”

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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