ABILENE, Texas (DYESS AIR FORCE BASE) – Airman 1st Class Mary Kapuscinski, 7th Operations Support Squadron meteorologist, was recently recognized for an act that could have saved thousands of lives. She has won awards for her weather forecasting expertise. But it hasn’t always been positive times for her at Dyess.
Kapuscinski arrived from technical training to the 7th OSS Weather Flight in November 2015. She was married with high hopes for her relationship and Air Force career. To her disappointment, she began to see a negative turn in her marriage soon after her arrival.
To not get to into detail, the marriage was just not good, said Kapuscinski. “Both parties were not happy.”
Work began to feel like an escape from home for Kapuscinski. She said she often found herself spending off-duty time with her colleagues to avoid home.
“Through work, I developed a great supporting cast of friends,” said Kapuscinski. “They convinced me that for the happiness of both parties, maybe the marriage shouldn’t go on.”
“When I brought up divorce to my then-spouse, things began to get ugly,” she said. “He wouldn’t leave the house, and every move I made was watched and reported by him. My belief was that the only way to cure his anger was to get me in trouble. Emotions and tension in the house lead to me receiving a letter of reprimand for a private incident that occurred.”
LORs are administrative disciplinary actions, and, if piled up, LORs can lead to non-judicial military punishment and even discharges.
“The divorce ended up going through,” said Kapuscinski. “With that and the LOR on my mind, I became depressed and chose the wrong way to cope. I began to drink a lot. I started hanging out with a group that I thought was good for me, but they just cared about partying. I didn’t realize the path I was on; I just wanted to forget.
“Eventually, I ended up on a TDY and everything seemed to be going well,” said Kapuscinski. “One night I began to drink, because I knew my shift the next day was going to be short and nothing significant was going to occur. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, I blacked out, missed work and was informed I was receiving an Article 15. My career and life seemed to be falling apart in front of me.”
A Uniformed Code of Military Justice Article 15 is the highest form of military non-judicial punishment and is often referred to as career-ending paperwork.
She was then demoted from senior airman to airman first class.
What she did next can serve as an example to anyone who makes a mistake, said Lt. Col. Jade Reidy, 7th OSS commander.
“She owned it,” said Reidy. “She took responsibility at a time when she was at her absolute lowest, and it stung. I could see disappointment in her eyes. I sat across from her and told her ‘I believe in you. You can turn this around.’ She did just that.”
Reidy said that she saw a change almost immediately after the Article 15. She began to focus on becoming an expert in her craft and an example for Airmen.
Over the next year, Kapuscinski earned multiple Performer of the Month Awards and one Airman of the Quarter award. She was recently recognized for distinguishing herself in a time of crisis.
On May 18, Kapuscinski was working a night shift alone when her weather-radar system began to malfunction. She adapted and discovered the only way to get weather scans, was by closing the program and reopening it after every scan.
The scanning process is the bulk of Kapuscinski’s job, she said. The process includes watching a computer’s top view of the earth and tracking different weather formations in and around Texas.
“We had some light rain go over the base, but nothing significant was coming up on the scans the whole night,” she said.
As her shift came to an end, what seemed to be a tornado formed on her radar within 5 miles of the base.
“Immediately, my heart started racing and I knew what I had to do,” said Kapuscinski.
She went into action, but she knew with every second passing, lives could be at risk. Without the second opinion required by her response protocol, she made the decision to push out a tornado warning urging people to seek shelter immediately.
Her judgment was correct. Minutes later, a tornado touched down first on Dyess and then in Abilene, Texas. It caused over a million dollars in damage to the base and surrounding community.
Her decision was made nearly 10 minutes faster than the National Weather Service. Sirens sounded the alarm on base, loud enough that even those near the outside of the installation could heed the warning.
She is credited with keeping the lives of 13,700 people at Dyess safe in a circumstance that could have easily been a tragedy, said Reidy.
“Since the day she sat in my office in late 2017, her change has inspired me,” said Reidy. “And now she’s demonstrated leadership that saved an entire installation from potential tragedy by giving them extra minutes.”
The second chance she was given by caring leadership has been the key to her transformation, Kapuscinski said.
“I can truly say that the mistakes I’ve made have only helped me grow,” she said. “And it was the same mistakes that made me strong enough to make the decision I made that day.”
Every Airman has a story, and some have a little more friction than others. Airman Kapuscinski is a prime example of how that same friction can lead to growth.