SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 — U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Taiquona Conner, a services Airman with the 6th Force Support Squadron, never expected to find her calling through an unexpected journey that began with a high school whim.
“I was in high school, randomly trying to get out of class one day,” Conner recalled. “My friend was taking the ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery], and I tagged along, not thinking anything would come of it.”
Initially, Conner had her sights set on a basketball career, with dreams of playing in college and eventually joining the Women’s National Basketball Association. Fate, however, had different plans in store for her, as she soon discovered.
“I was known for playing basketball throughout high school,” Conner said. “My coach, who played in the WNBA, guided me through the scouting process, but a knee injury made it clear that a basketball career wasn’t in the cards.”
Towards the end of her senior year, Conner received an unexpected call from a U.S. Army recruiter, inquiring about her future plans. With her basketball aspirations fading, military service started to appear as a viable career option. Two weeks later, she embarked on Basic Combat Training, a decision she had kept from her mother until just a week before her departure.
“I didn’t even tell my mom until a week before I shipped out,” Conner said. “She was obviously upset because she and I had both planned on a career in basketball, but with my knee injury, I had to make a choice that was better in the long run.”
During her tenure in the Army, Conner worked as a human resources specialist, adapting to various roles as required. However, she felt that she was merely honing her skills and yearned for the freedom to express herself more fully, a characteristic she considered vital.
Turning to the Air Force, Conner found a potential solution. She appreciated the structure and security of military life, hoping that the Air Force would grant her the personal growth and development she sought, both as an individual and an Airman.
Conner met with an Air Force recruiter who introduced her to the inter-service transfer program, which offered her the opportunity to switch branches. After a year of civilian life, she embarked on a new chapter, enrolling in an introductory course on Air Force fundamentals at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
“There is no BMT [Basic Military Training] or technical school for services Airmen with prior military service,” Conner explained. “We do a one-week course on the basics of the Air Force before we’re sent to our first base to learn on the job. Everything I know was taught through people, not a textbook.”
As Conner delved into her chosen career field, she was presented with the unique opportunity to select her preferred workplace: lodging, dining facility, fitness center, or mortuary affairs. Unconventionally, she chose the often-overlooked mortuary affairs.
“When the option to work in mortuary came up, they said they weren’t going to send me unless I was comfortable doing that type of work,” Conner recounted. “I took it because I’m the type of person to do everything to the fullest.”
Conner was assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, for a six-month tasking, where she delved into paperwork, met with bereaved families, and handled remains. There, she discovered her true passion.
“I instantly fell in love,” Conner said. “I’m a thrill seeker, and what’s more thrilling than that? I worked alongside the embalmers to prepare the bodies for their funeral service, and they recognized the talent I had.”
Conner’s remarkable affinity for her work led to exceptional opportunities beyond the typical experiences of a services Airman.
“They [the embalmers] were more hands-on with me,” Conner noted. “They let me help them more. They even helped me choose a school to learn embalming professionally. The director even offered me a civilian position, once I obtain my license and degree.”
Today, Conner serves in the fitness center at MacDill AFB, Florida, as she works toward her ultimate goal of becoming an embalming specialist.
“I’m still new to MacDill, so I’m learning my role here,” Conner said. “But, I have a plan for my future. I want to complete my college education before transitioning into the reserves. Then, after a year of internships, I want to make mortuary affairs my career.”
Conner exemplifies an Airman unafraid to take chances in pursuit of her passion. Her time in the Army provided her with fundamental military knowledge, while her Air Force journey led her to a fulfilling career she’s passionate about.
For more information on the inter-service transfer program and the services career field, please visit your local recruiter. To find your local recruiter, visit https://www.airforce.com/find-a-recruiter
Story by Airman 1st Class Zachary Foster
6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs