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Joined for the car, stayed for the people

Master Sgt. Kim Coates stands inside the 39th Aerial Port Squadron’s cargo bay downstairs from her office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 27, 2019.

Master Sgt. Kim Coates stands inside the 39th Aerial Port Squadron’s cargo bay downstairs from her office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 27, 2019. Coates retired from the Air Force April 1, 2019 after 33 years of service (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Frank Casciotta)

Retired Air Force Col. Betty Bullington presents a certificate of retirement to Master Sgt. Kim Coates, 39th Aerial Port Squadron, during her retirement ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 29, 2019.

Retired Air Force Col. Betty Bullington presents a certificate of retirement to Master Sgt. Kim Coates, 39th Aerial Port Squadron, during her retirement ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 29, 2019. Coates retired from the Air Force after 33 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Frank Casciotta)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

After emancipating herself at 16 years old, Kim built a reputation for herself as a troublemaker with a long list of misdemeanors -- mostly driving violations. Those charges eventually caught up to her and when faced with spending time at a juvenile detention facility or an enlistment into the armed services the choice was easy -- the detention facility. At least until her father promised to buy her a car of her choice if she made it through basic training. She ended up retiring from the Air Force on April 1 after 33 years of service.

In 1986, the year she enlisted, a judge agreed to cleanse her criminal record in exchange for a four-year commitment to the Air Force. That car her dad bought her for, which she drove for 10 years, was a 1986 Pontiac Firebird T-top. Though she had no plans to keep her promise to carry out her enlistment, that changed when she got to her first assignment at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

“I realized it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be,” said Master Sgt. Kim Coates, with the 39th Aerial Port Squadron. “(The Air Force) gave me the structure that I didn’t have growing up. I didn’t have the freedom I was used to, but I needed the discipline. It made me a better person.”

Coates spent 10 years on active duty before she and her husband, who was also active duty in the Air Force, decided she should separate to take care of their 18-month-old daughter. Her husband separated shortly after she did and they moved back to Colorado Springs, her hometown. It wasn’t even a year later when she joined the Air Force Reserve and got her job here at the 39th APS as a traditional reservist.

“I just missed the military so much, because those 10 years were great,” said Coates. “I honestly don’t have one bad memory from that time.”

After getting laid off from her civilian job in 2002, Coates looked to the Air Force. She was able to get active duty orders at Headquarters Air Force Space Command, here, and managed to fill various administrative roles from 2003 to 2012.

“I could have easily found a civilian job, but I just love the people who serve in the military,” said Coates. “I’ve met so many amazing people and that’s why I worked so hard to stay on orders. I wanted to stay in the military community.”

In 2013, she was selected for a full-time position with the 39th APS as an air reserve technician, where she served until her retirement this year.

Retired Air Force Col. Betty Bullington, who was a captain at the 302nd APS, when Coates started at the squadron presided over the retirement ceremony, which took place March 29, 2019 here.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui