Tech sergeant gets job with Thunderbirds as training manager

Holly Mays made it to Las Vegas because she beat the odds.

Not once or twice but many times she kept rolling the dice of life. Even though she experienced setback after setback, she never gave up.

And finally, after being denied for her dream job with the prestigious Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, the South Korean-born tech sergeant landed a job in 2009 as the team’s training manager.

She’s come a long way from being a toddler in diapers who was abandoned on a street corner. Now, at 39, with two years left in her Air Force career, she’s ready to give the baby she’s expected to deliver in February the love and the life she never had.

“I just always wanted to be part of something elite,” Mays said in an Aug. 22 interview at the Thunderbirds hangar at Nellis Air Force Base. Until recently, she’s never told her life story “because I was always ashamed of it.”

“When I was a baby, I was left alone in the streets by a female figure, which I’m thinking is my mom. I just remember even as a baby that they were never going to come back. That was my first memory,” she said.

“I just sat there. I was cold. I was crying. I was in diapers,” she said, her voice cracking as tears welled up in her eyes.

“I don’t know how many hours went by, but these two guys, which I’m thinking were cops, picked me up and took me to a police station to find out what I was doing there alone,” she said. “Nobody came to claim me so they decided to take me to an orphanage and that’s where my life began.”

From that orphanage she was transferred to another because the nuns who were her chaperones thought she was a troublemaker.

“I was just trying to survive but maybe I broke the rules a couple times,” she said. “I was a young kid. You don’t know how to discipline yourself. You don’t know right from wrong (and) they were very harsh on punishment if you didn’t follow the rules.”

U.S. Army soldiers would visit the orphans once a month and hand out blankets, food and shoes. At age 8, she thought she was getting too old to be adopted because “most people are adopted when they are babies,” she said.

Then one day a soldier and his wife noticed her. “I guess they took a liking to me and decided to take me home for a couple weekends at a time.”

Eventually, the couple began the adoption process.

“I was very happy when they wanted me,” Mays recalled. “They took me home. That experience was different because the house they had was very domesticated, like running water, toilets and a real bed to sleep in. I thought that was just amazing.

“They treated me with hugs and kisses that I never knew.”

But after they moved from South Korea to Maryland, her family life went downhill. “They always argued and yelled at each other.”

After two years and with an adopted younger sister, her father retired and the family moved to Florida. Holly was 12. Her parents separated soon after they arrived, and divorced a couple of years later. The girls stayed with their mother.

“My dad wanted me and my mom wanted my sister but because my mom wanted to be rebellious she actually fought for me and my sister,” Mays said.

“Nothing in my life has gone right so I just didn’t think their marriage could last. At first I was kind of shocked, devastated. But once I accepted it I moved on. I didn’t think twice about it.”

Just before she graduated from high school, Mays married a soldier who was bound for Fort Campbell, Ky. He was five years older.

“At first I said, ‘no,’ because at the time I was 17 and had aspirations. I wanted to go to college. I had my whole life set out and none of it had a guy in the picture.”

Then she thought this was her opportunity to leave her broken home.

After a yearlong, rocky relationship — “I didn’t know how to be a wife. We just kept arguing about small stuff,” — her husband filed for divorce. It was the lowest of low points in her life.

“I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. I just felt so alone,” she said. “Even though I had a home, I almost felt homeless. I have no college degree. I have no money. I have nobody to turn to.”

Then while watching television one day she saw an Air Force commercial. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. That could be the start of my life right there a good life.”

And it was. She went to a recruiter in Clarksville, Tenn., and signed enlistment papers on her birthday, Aug. 15, 1995. “That was my present to myself.”

She started with basic training in January 1996 and then trained to be a dental technician. After three years stationed in Alaska she cross-trained for a new speciality, unit training manager.

In 2001, she took a stab at making the Thunderbirds team. “When I joined the Air Force, I remember the Thunderbirds were the spotlight, the face of the Air Force and I’ve always wanted to be part of it,” she said.

But because she lacked experience she was turned down for the job.

She didn’t give up. With experience under her belt she applied for the job again in 2009 and landed it.

“It was one of the happiest moments. I felt like I got my dream job.”

After traveling with the team and seeing cities she’s read about — Niagara Falls, N.Y., Miami and Chicago — she met a man in Las Vegas who’s her fiance, Anthony Young.

“Now I’m thinking about family and babies and marriage,” she said. “Once I get out of the Air Force with my MBA degree I’m going to apply for a job at the MGM or a contractor job on base. And just live happily ever after.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like