An Airman’s resilience story: Nothing to lose everything to gain

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, poses for a photo on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 14, 2022. The photo was to highlight Underwood’s resilience growing up for women’s history month.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

An Airman’s resilience story: Nothing to lose everything to gain

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, poses for a photo on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 14, 2022. The photo was to highlight Underwood’s resilience growing up for women’s history month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, folds an American flag in the fold position for a two-man detail on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022. The detail preforms a two-man flag fold with the playing of taps to veterans who served in the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

An Airman’s resilience story: Nothing to lose everything to gain

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, folds an American flag in the fold position for a two-man detail on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022. The detail preforms a two-man flag fold with the playing of taps to veterans who served in the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, trains during a colors detail practice on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022. Guardsmen hold the flags at present arms during the playing of the national anthem. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

An Airman’s resilience story: Nothing to lose everything to gain

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, trains during a colors detail practice on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022. Guardsmen hold the flags at present arms during the playing of the national anthem. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, trains for military funeral honors by folding a flag on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022.  Presenting the American flag to the next of kin is one of the many responsibility ceremonial guardsmen hold. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

An Airman’s resilience story: Nothing to lose everything to gain

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Underwood, 375th Medical Group pharmacy technician, trains for military funeral honors by folding a flag on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, March 15, 2022. Presenting the American flag to the next of kin is one of the many responsibility ceremonial guardsmen hold. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mark Sulaica)

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Before joining the Air Force, Senior Airman Miranda Underwood survived an abusive childhood and was on her own and homeless by age 17.  

With her wits and determination, she overcame her challenges and now at age 21 thrives as a pharmacy technician with the 375th Medical Group.  Her resilience and outstanding performance on the job has become a source of inspiration for others. 

She explained how her parents’ profession as welders made life “feast or famine” for them due to the unsteady nature of the work. When they were laid off in Alaska, her family moved to Florida where she said her mother and siblings found themselves couch surfing from place to place in a women's homeless shelter or even in someone’s backyard. 

By age 9 she moved in with her grandparents only to become victim to psychological and emotional abuse from her grandmother who would tell her what a burden she was to them.

“Grandpa was my saving grace. He was the one that always stood up for me.” 

Through this time in her life, she turned to school as “an escape from reality.”  

“I always managed to keep my grades up because … I loved reading and doing schoolwork.”

Always a good student, she took classes to obtain her high school diploma and her associate's degree at the same time. But even in her educational escape from her troubles at home, she was never truly free from the cruelty of others who still viewed her as different.

“It was so weird because I went to a magnet school and all the students had uniforms. But, even though we all looked the same, I still remember this one kid who was so mean to me. He told me that his parents loved him enough to buy him new clothes. How was I supposed to respond to that?”

The feeling of being different did not end when the school bell rang. She felt she was a burden to her grandparents because they weren’t well off–only collecting social security checks to get by. In an effort to better her life, that’s when at age 17 she packed her things and slept in a nylon tent with sticks poking her in the back while she slept.

It wasn’t too long after that when she saw a friend request from a “Hunter” on social media which had been unanswered for more than a year.  She decided to reply but worried it could be a scam. After he sent her pictures of them together as kids, she then remembered some of those moments from elementary school.  

This re-sparked their friendship, she said while placing both hands over her heart. She saved up to meet him for a weekend in Michigan and got to know his mother, Heather Lane.  Heather said she remembered Miranda from when she was little and knew that she was struggling. 

Heather wanted to do something to help and when Miranda told her she just needed a place to live, Heather opened her home to her.

“I claim Miranda as my own daughter,” said Heather. “Before being asked if something needed to be done, she would just do it. Not only was she sweet and helpful, but she was also driven. I admired Miranda and her determination to reach her goals. Life is full of challenges and obstacles, but she had the determination to overcome them all. I am very proud of the woman that she has become. I am very blessed to have had a front-row seat in her life.”

Miranda worked two jobs to help pay for expenses and tried everything not to be a burden–trying to forget her grandmother’s hurtful words. At the time, she wanted to be a nurse–being halfway finished with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

In addition to a roof over her head, the Lane family helped reunite Miranda with her Grandpa on her father's side of the family, leading her to reunite with her aunt and uncle in New Mexico. This visit would give her the drive, focus, and idea of how to ensure consistency in her life. 

“While visiting, I saw my uncle's ABU top hanging up by the door with the name Underwood on it.  I was like, ‘that could be me’,” she said. From there, she felt she needed a fresh start in her life and headed to the local recruiter's office.

Miranda said that joining the Air Force has given her stability in her life, and she constantly steps out of her comfort zone to improve herself. She did this recently by volunteering to become part of the Honor Guard detail here–a six-month assignment outside of her normal job description.

“I have performed several funerals for Vietnam Veterans. It is possibly knowing they might have been homeless at one point too that pulls at my heartstrings. It's such an honor because whenever you fold the flag or you play Taps, you just see how much it affects their families.” 

By sharing her story, Miranda said she hopes she can be a role model to others. She tells other young people who may be struggling to take charge of their educational opportunities, and embrace change.

“You have the ability to overcome any challenge you have, and sometimes you will need the help of others.  Be kind to yourself, and stretch beyond your comfort zone … just go for it.”