JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When LaToya Freeman got a call July 22 saying her name was going to be painted on Jimmie Johnson’s car as part of NASCAR Salutes for the Super Start Batteries 400 race at the Kansas Speedway, she was in disbelief.
Freeman, who recently enlisted in the Air Force Reserve but has yet to attend Basic Military Training, was nominated by her civilian employer, Ally Bank.
“I was nominated by a colleague for the honor,” Freeman said. “I didn’t know I was selected until a member of our marketing team reached out and told me. I was floored! I couldn’t believe that of every service member at Ally I had been chosen for such an esteemed way to be recognized.”
After seeing the race live on television, Freeman was enthusiastic and emotional.
“I can’t even put my emotions into words watching Jimmie's car ride around that track with my name on it,” she said. “I was honored, shocked, excited and in disbelief – all at the same time. It was definitely a surreal moment.”
During and after the race, she was bombarded with people reaching out to her showing support.
“It was so humbling to receive the phone calls and texts from my family members, friends my Air Force Reserve recruiter and my development flight leader congratulating me for this recognition, especially because they know how hard I work in my life to succeed,” she said. “It was even more humbling to receive recognition from peers and colleagues acknowledging this huge honor. From executive leaders at Ally to associate level colleagues, everyone was excited for me. And that felt amazing.”
Prior to the race, Freeman had a video teleconference call with Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“The call with Jimmie was also surreal,” she said. “To be face to face with a NASCAR legend was indescribable. Jimmie thanked me for my service and for the opportunity to meet me. I thanked him for his work on the track and in the community, and shared with him how grateful I was for the opportunity to share his night with him.”
Freeman is joining the Reserve at the age of 33. The benefits of joining were hard to pass up and her desire to serve was strong.
“I have a heart for giving back. My desire to continue to give back to my community and to my country impacted my decision to join the Air Force Reserve so late in life, as well as the ability to further my career and educational goals,” she said. “Enlisting as a civil engineer is a huge deal and I’m looking forward to continuing to be the role model my kids need to be successful in their own lives.”
She said she has been leading volunteer efforts for her company’s Jacksonville site for seven years now.
“I feel as individuals we are nothing without giving back to our community and helping along those who may not have the same opportunities we’ve been afforded,” she said. “Giving back keeps me thriving, it keeps me humble and it keeps making the world a better place.”
The decision to join was bolstered by the support she has received from her family. Knowing they have her back made it a much easier choice. She has three children – a sixth grader, a fourth grader and a soon-to-be four-year-old.
“My kids are excited for my decision to join the Air Force,” Freeman said. “My parents and siblings are equally excited. They all know the doors a career in the Air Force can bring and they’re ready for the journey with me. For those reasons, my parents will definitely be on deck to care for the kids during my time at training.”
She will perform her Reserve duty at Hurlburt Field, Florida, as part of the 556th Red Horse Squadron. She is set to go to Basic Military Training Sept. 1, 2020.
“I’m both excited and nervous actually,” she said. “During training, I expect to learn a few things I never knew about myself and about the Air Force overall. I also expect to be an even better Airman once the experience is said and done.”
Her civilian employer, Ally, where she has worked for nearly 10 years, has been very supportive of her decision to join the Air Force. She is currently a supervisor aligned with the credit bureau disputes team.
“I actually interviewed for the supervisor job after enlisting and shared with them my military plans during the interview,” she recalls. “I only received the utmost support. I was told that my military career would in no way be an issue. Ally supports our military personnel. That was an incredible moment for me, to feel valued in the midst of them knowing I’d have training in the approaching months. They still hired me, and I love my job. I’m grateful to be part of such a great team at Ally.”