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I am Schriever: Serving waffles leads to AF career

50th Civil Engineering Squadron

Senior Airman Magdalena Kocheva, 50th Civil Engineering Squadron commander support staff, briefs Tech. Sgt. Brandon Pingle, 50th CES structures journeyman at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Jan. 28, 2019. Kocheva’s Schriever AFB career started in the Military Personnel Flight, and six months later she joined the 50th CES. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Rogers)

50th Civil Engineering Squadron

Senior Airman Magdalena Kocheva, 50th Civil Engineering Squadron commander support staff, shows a fellow Airman how to operate a saw at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Jan. 28, 2019. Kocheva grew up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and began her Air Force journey after participating in the working travel program where she worked in the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Rogers)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Senior Airman Magdalena Kocheva, 50th Civil Engineering Squadron commander support staff, lived an ordinary childhood in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, playing music and going to movies with her older brother, Dimitar.

Little did she know she would leave her hometown and begin her journey with the Air Force.

“I first came into the United States as a working travel student,” she said. “I was in college in Bulgaria, and my brother Dimitar was the one who told me about going to the states. He would go for a couple of summers and loved the lifestyle.”

Kocheva followed her brother’s footsteps and began traveling to the U.S. through the working travel program, which provides foreign students with an opportunity to live and work in the U.S. during the summers.

“I happened to be working in a Waffle House which was right by Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida,” she said. “Most of my customers were Air Force, but I didn’t really know what they did or what the mission was.”

After speaking with her customers, Kocheva soon became interested in what the Air Force had to offer.

“They all seemed to really enjoy it and talked about traveling all over the world, which I was really interested in,” she said.

Kocheva’s first real taste of the military was visiting with an Army recruiter at a military open house.

“I really cared about finishing my education and I asked the recruiter what they offered regarding education,” she said. “I just wanted to finish school and travel.”

After exploring other branches, Kocheva stumbled upon the Air Force.

“I walked straight in and didn’t have an appointment,” she said. “The recruiter was by himself, versus the Army where it was a bit overwhelming with all of the people.”

When Kocheva discovered the Air Force recruiter was in school himself, she felt like she found her path.

Kocheva’s family was unsure about her decision to join the Air Force, as they were not familiar with the culture.

“Their idea of military was what they saw in the movies,” she laughed. “They thought I was going to go and be on the battlefield for most of the time.”

However, because of Kocheva’s driven personality, her family was not surprised this was something she wanted to pursue.

“My family is used to me going for whatever I want to do,” she said. “I try things and see for myself.”

Dimitar was supportive of Kocheva, and immediately asked her if she would be shooting guns for a living.

“He (Dimitar) was mad,” she laughed. “He said, ‘my friends are going to make fun of me because you’re going to be more in shape than me!’”

A few months later, Kocheva headed to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“I was in shock when I first arrived,” she said. “It was totally different from my normal every day routine. It also didn’t help that I was one of the oldest in my flight, 27 at the time, and not into the high school type drama.”

Upon completion of BMT, Kocheva arrived at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorad in May of 2017, where she was assigned to customer service in the Military Personnel Flight.

“I loved it because it gave me an opportunity to meet so many people from the base,” she said. “I was new and didn’t know anyone in Colorado.”

After six months of working in customer service, Kocheva transferred to the 50th CES as a member of the commander support staff and has enjoyed it ever since.

“I get to do a lot more volunteering with the CES,” she said. “This is second commander I’ve worked for, and it’s a lot more challenging and there are more responsibilities.”

Kocheva’s favorite part about Schriever AFB are the people.

“I meet people from all over the world,” she said. “For a small base, it feels pretty crowded.”

Senior Master Sgt. Malcolm Summers, 50th CES superintendent, said “Koch” had some big shoes to fill from her predecessor.

“I knew we were getting a less experienced Airman and I hoped she could catch up,” he said. “I was surely wrong. From day one she has been a great asset to our unit.”

Summers appreciates Kocheva’s energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude she brings to work daily.

“Every day she comes in smiling ready to tackle the day’s challenges,” he said. “She inspires and motivates so many of us here.”

Summers said Kocheva is a go-to Airman behind the scenes for the 50th CES personnel.

“I’ve been so impressed with the job knowledge she has as a young Airman,” he said. “If she doesn’t have the answer, she stops at nothing to find it. You add that knowledge with her tireless work ethic and drive and it’s great.”

“While Koch is a great Airman, she is an even better person,” he said. “She brings smiles to faces of so many in the squadron and I’m so proud of her. It’s been a privilege to watch her grow over the last year we have worked together.”

Kocheva said working directly with her superintendent is challenging but very rewarding.

“If it wasn’t for him challenging me and asking me to get out of my comfort zone every day, I would be doing the same thing over and over,” she said. “Every day is so different. I go to work and I don’t know what the day is going to look like. It’s awesome.”

Kocheva recently returned to Bulgaria to visit her family, and now they understand her reasons for joining the Air Force.

“My family thinks I’m pretty cool and are super supportive now,” she laughed. “My brother asked me, ‘do you get to shoot guns every day now?’ and I said, “Yes, I get to shoot keys on the keyboard!”