Mistakes happen. But owning them can pave the way for second chances.

Just talk to Airman 1st Class Mary Kapuscinski, a 7th Operations Support Squadron meteorologist at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Kapuscinski, who is credited with preserving the lives of thousands of people in May, received an Article 15 in 2017 and was demoted from senior airman to airman first class after she blacked out from drinking and skipped work.

Following a rocky divorce, Kapuscinski said she became depressed and turned to alcohol.

“One night I began to drink because I knew my shift the next day was going to be short and nothing significant was going to occur,” Kapuscinski said in a recent news release. “In what seemed like a blink of an eye, I blacked out, missed work and was informed I was receiving an Article 15. My career and life seemed to be falling apart in front of me.”

But Lt. Col. Jade Reidy, 7th OSS commander, said Kapuscinski took responsibility for her actions and didn’t let the Article 15, the highest from of military nonjudicial punishment, to derail her career. In fact, the punishment prompted Kapuscinski to direct her attention on her work and becoming a model for other airmen by receiving several Performer of the Month awards and an Airman of the Quarter Award.

“She owned it,” Reidy said in the news release. “She took responsibility at a time when she was at her absolute lowest, and it stung. I could see disappointment in her eyes. I sat across from her and told her ‘I believe in you. You can turn this around.’ She did just that.”

Kapuscinski’s dedication to her career has paid off. When a tornado struck Dyess Air Force Base May 18, her swift actions helped ensure the safety of more than 13,700 people. She was almost done working a night shift when she detected what looked like a tornado within five miles of the base.

“Immediately, my heart started racing and I knew what I had to do,” she said.

Although protocol requires that she receive a second opinion before issuing an alert, she acted instantly and sent out a tornado warning instructing people to find shelter. The tornado touched down on the base within minutes, and she issued a response before the National Weather Service did.

Although the tornado led to more than $1 million in damage to Dyess and nearby areas, Kapuscinski’s prompt response allowed more time for people on the base to secure safety.

“Since the day she sat in my office in late 2017, her change has inspired me,” Reidy said. “And now she’s demonstrated leadership that saved an entire installation from potential tragedy by giving them extra minutes.”

“I can truly say that the mistakes I’ve made have only helped me grow,” Kapuscinski said. “And it was the same mistakes that made me strong enough to make the decision I made that day.”