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Airman works toward doctorate

Senior Airman Luke Pagan, 72nd Security Forces Squadron, is a pro at finding quiet places, like the base library, to put in some study time as he pursues his doctorate degree. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright )

Senior Airman Luke Pagan, 72nd Security Forces Squadron, is a pro at finding quiet places, like the base library, to put in some study time as he pursues his doctorate degree. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright )

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- They don't call him Doctor Airman. At least, not yet.

"I'm the college kid," says Senior Airman Luke Pagan, a desk sergeant for the 72nd Security Forces Squadron. "That's how they know me around here."

Although Airmen with college degrees are not uncommon, an enlisted Airman with a master's degree working toward a doctorate is. Just over 5 percent of Airmen have a bachelor's degree with less than 1 percent having a master's. At 26, Airman Pagan has both. Now, he's working on a doctorate with plans to attend law school full-time next year.

"It's fun to be a cop here," he explains. "What I want to do is become a lawyer full time. I really want to go to law school. I never thought I could do it, but now it's right in front of me."

Airman Pagan never thought he would join the Air Force, either. A New York City native, he spent his first term at Florida International University in Miami hitting the beach harder than the books. Until 9/11.

"Sept. 11 hit me pretty hard, being from New York," he said. "I mean, my dad's office is right across the street from the World Trade Center. Sept. 11 was a big influence and I wanted to make a difference."

The son of a correctional services officer with many friends and family in the police, a career in law enforcement seemed an obvious choice. "I wanted to be a cop, always," he says.

Airman Pagan switched his studies to law enforcement with the goal of serving his country in some capacity.

"I graduated with a bachelor's degree at 22 and at 23 I joined the military," he said. "I decided on the Air Force and that's where I'm at today."

In the Air Force, Airman Pagan had the chance to combine his love of law enforcement with serving his country. He also had the chance to earn a master's degree online via American Military University, a regionally and nationally-recognized distance-learning school.

While on deployment to Qatar, Airman Pagan used is his spare time to earn his graduate degree in security management. Earning the degree took just over two years.

"I did a lot of my work in the desert," he said. "Getting a graduate degree was 10-times easier than the undergraduate degree. It's just built on the foundation of my undergraduate degree."

Most would be satisfied with the achievement. But for Airman Pagan, education has always been a priority. With the support of friends and family, especially his parents, he decided to keep going.

"It's a lot more work," he says. "But my supervisors and leadership really help me out a lot."

In turn, Airman Pagan helps out fellow airmen by encouraging them to continue with their education. As active-duty personnel, Airmen have many options for earning degrees through the GI Bill and the post-9/11 GI Bill. And on-line schools like the one Airman Pagan uses are options for deployed or remotely-located personnel.

"If you have some time, you can get it done," he says. "I'm making it my goal to try and assist as many young airmen as I can. I take time to get airman enrolled in school and make them aware of it."

Time management is not only essential for earning a degree, but a good life principle as well, Airman Pagan adds. "If you can manage your time, it makes it easier to get things done," he says.

Although it will take another four years of full-time study to earn his doctorate, Airman Pagan says it will be well worth the effort and may open new doors in a new direction.

"I've been blessed and I'm eager to see what the future holds for myself," he says.