ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. - For Air Force Staff Sgt. Barricia McCormick, a Georgia Air National Guard member and paralegal with the 116th Air Control Wing here, a fifth-grade family history project for her school revealed a rich heritage she found hard to believe.
"You know we're related to Harriet Tubman," McCormick's mother said.
"No, we're not," McCormick replied. "Don't lie to me."
It was during this conversation that McCormick learned her great grandmother and Harriet Ross Tubman, the African-American abolitionist and humanitarian responsible for the rescue of more than 300 slaves through the Underground Railroad, were first cousins.
Then her mother pulled out some family photos and for the first time began sharing a family history lesson that would affect the course of McCormick's life.
"Up until that time I didn't know a lot about Harriet Tubman," McCormick said. "In fact, Black History Month was just another month to me.
"As I learned more about my family history," McCormick continued, "I developed a sensed of family pride I didn't have before."
During the course of her school project, elders in McCormick's family were able to trace their lineage as far back as one generation prior to Harriet Tubman.
"Being African American you can only follow so far in researching your family history so it was exciting being able to trace back that many generations," McCormick said. "I was glad to learn about my heritage so I can pass it down to children I may have in the future."
McCormick's school project uncovered more family history that would impact her future.
As she followed her family tree dating back to Tubman, McCormick discovered that not only did Tubman assist the Union Army during the Civil War, but she also found that nearly every male in her family - dating back to World War I - had served in the military.
At 17, McCormick embarked on her own military journey, enlisting in the Air National Guard to become only the second woman in her family to serve in the military.
"The legacy that Harriet Tubman left that has been carried on from generation to generation in my family, instilled a sense of hope in me and has helped me travel routes I wouldn't have otherwise," McCormick said.
Taking advantage of the educational opportunities afforded by her military service, McCormick went on to earn Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Remembering a meeting with a former colonel from the Tuskegee Airmen, McCormick said she was taken aback when he thanked her for her service.
"I asked, 'Why would you thank me for my service when I haven't experienced anything compared to what you went through,'" McCormick recalled.
The colonel's reply, she added, was, "We fought and served so you guys could do it."
"People like that, and especially other women of color that I've met who've had successful military careers, inspire me to excel," McCormick said.
McCormick said she now has set her sights on earning a commission in the Georgia Air National Guard.
When she's not serving as a traditional, one-weekend-per-month Guard member, McCormick wears a different uniform - serving as a police officer for the city of Atlanta in her fulltime job.