LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
Hundreds of Airmen erupt into cheers and applause in a hangar after a name is announced. Among the crowd, a young Airman screams in disbelief. With tears of joy streaming down her face, she makes her way onto the stage to shake the commander’s hand.
She looks to her family after receiving her award and is reminded of where they were seven years ago.
Before the accolades and recognition for her career, a son came into her world. On July 29, 2010, Barrett was born and, with him, brought unpredictable challenges.
Katie and Daniel Cogbill noticed delays in Barrett’s verbal and motor skills shortly before his first birthday.
“He was able to do certain things like wave hello,” Katie said. “One day, he just stopped doing it like he never learned it in the first place.”
Barrett needed more than what his parents could research on their own. The Cogbills placed their son on a year-long waiting list to be seen at the Texas Children’s Hospital Autism Center.
There, Barrett finally received a diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others, according to the Mayo Clinic. It affects one in 68 children and each child’s case is unique.
Just under 2 years old, Barrett was considered delayed in verbal communication.
“We have to always keep an eye on him,” Katie said. “Like other children with autism, Barrett has an attraction to water. In the area we were staying, there was a lot of swampland and bayous.”
Although, Orange, Texas, may have a lot of swampland, the town didn’t have resources for children with ASD, which resulted in Barrett not receiving enough therapy.
“We could get therapies through companies that would only send someone twice a week for 30 minutes,” Katie said. “I had to fight tooth and nail to get him the help he needed.”
While fighting financial stressors and lack of resources, Katie’s strength and hope never wavered.
“I was working two, sometimes three, jobs at a time and taking care of Barrett,” Katie said. “Sometimes I would go to bed crying about how it would never get better.”
Knowing sleepless nights on friend’s couches wouldn’t get her family anywhere, she knew the choice she needed to make.
With the full support of her husband and son, Katie enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2014.
Her love, tenacity and dedication to her family led her to join the one percent of those in the United States who choose to enlist.
Today, Katie is known as Senior Airman Katie Cogbill, 19th Medical Operations Squadron medical technician at Little Rock Air Force Base.
“From the time he got his diagnosis, I wanted to go into the medical field,” Cogbill said. “I wanted to find out more about neurological disorders like ASD so I could become more connected.”
After joining the Air Force, she didn’t only leave behind a small town, she left behind the worry of choosing between groceries or electricity. In addition to financial stability, Cogbill received therapy benefits for Barrett and was shown how the Air Force fulfills its promise to take care of its people.
With the resources now available, Barrett receives occupational speech and physical therapy, and applied behavior analysis several hours a week.
“Barrett now attends school in Cabot and showed improvement after being there for one month,” Cogbill said. “He’s doing so much better than he was a year ago. He’s gone from having trouble sitting still in a chair to sitting with his entire class for lunch.”
While she celebrates Barrett’s progression with her husband, Cogbill continually balances being a parent and a successful Airman.
“She is definitely one of the hardest working Airman I have ever met; her work ethic is always above and beyond.” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Laura Loggins, 19th Medical Operations Squadron Medical Services flight chief. “She is extremely dedicated to her studies, peers, family and patients.”
After being in dead-end jobs and having financial instability, Cogbill’s devotion to her family led her to defy the odds and get out of their predicament.
“My family and I went from sleeping on a friend's couch and floor just a few years ago to where we don't have to worry about keeping the lights on or buying groceries,” Cogbill said. “I joined the Air Force to be able to better care for my family. I have wanted to do nothing else but be the best that I can ever be to ensure that they are cared for.”
Cogbill’s successes and challenges led up to her standing amongst hundreds of Airmen in a hangar being recognized as the Airman of the Year for the 19th Airlift Wing.