From flightline to sideline

Cannon Connections: Liliana Castillo Clovis resident Rachael Barnett, far left, works as assistant coach for the Clovis Lady Wildcat’s with Head Coach Jeff Reed, far right.

Gabriel Monte

When Rachel Barnett resigned from the Air Force two months away from becoming a captain, she turned to the one thing that would give stability during her transition from military life — basketball.

“It was surprisingly easy,” she said of her transition from being a first lieutenant in the Air Force to becoming the assistant coach of the Clovis Lady Wildcats in October. “It felt like I was coming home. It was something I really enjoy.

Not only did basketball help her transition into civilian life, it helped get her foot in the door for another passion — teaching.

Barnett is the assistant coach of the Clovis Lady Wildcats and a seventh-grade history teacher at Marshall Middle School.

Barnett got her Air Force commission after graduating from Auburn University in 2006 with a degree in elementary education. She was assigned to Hurlburt Field in Florida as the officer in charge of the 16th aircraft maintenance unit, which maintains and repairs AC-130H gunships.

In 2009, the unit moved to Cannon Air Force Base as part of the base’s transition to AFSOC and Barnett volunteered to move to the base. The unit consisted of 250 people and had eight aircraft, two of which were deployed in Afghanistan, according to Barnett.

Barnett said she loved the military lifestyle having been born into it. Her father was a pilot in the Air Force Special Operations Command and flew MC-130P aircraft, an aircraft similar to the kind her unit was repairing.

“It was kind of neat to be a second-generation (officer) in AFSOC,” she said. “I’ve been around these specific aircraft all my life.”

But most of all, she loved working with the people of the unit, who were keeping aircraft that flew during the Vietnam war in working condition.

“It was a no-fail mission. It was never dull,” she said.

However, medical conditions were preventing her from deploying and she was concerned that she may become a detriment to the mission.

Aside from the Air Force, basketball was also a big part of Barnett’s life. She said her sisters and her father played basketball. She played high school basketball for the Choctawhatchee High Indians in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where she was a shooting guard.

“I had a ball in my hand since I was 4 years old,” she said. “(Basketball) was definitely a sport we all loved.”

As the assistant coach for the Lady Wildcats, Barnett draws from her experience as a high school basketball player to empathize with players. She said she sees herself as a support figure for the players.

“Being a female I feel I can relate to the girls well,” she said. “High school is a crazy time, so much stuff is going on. I try to remember that when I deal with the girls.”

Lady Wildcats head coach Jeff Reed said he thinks it’s nice to have a female assistant coach to be able to supervise and monitor players, especially during road games.

He said Barnett gives him a new perspective on dealing with players.

“It’s good to have an assistant coach to point out some things that are new or overlooked,” he said.

The assistant coach job helped land her an education assistant position at the high school, where she found out about a teaching vacancy at Marshall Middle School.

In December she was hired as a seventh-grade history teacher at Marshall Middle School.

“I always loved children,” she said. “I just always loved the idea of teaching.”

She said her experience as an officer in the military helps with her job as a teacher, though she had to draw back on her strictness. Also, she said the organization skills she developed in them military also helps.

“The military did set me up for teaching,” she said. “I think you can tie both jobs together in the skills that you use for both jobs.”

She said she enjoyed living in Clovis and decided to stay here. She said she enjoyed that people would thank her for her service every time she came to town in her uniform.