LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Ever been asked, “how long have you been in the Air Force?” Or, “what was your favorite assignment?”
Honestly, I could not even begin to tally these after 18 assignments and nearly 35 years in uniform. Once the gray started to overtake my natural hair color, the frequency seemed to increase… go figure.
However, as military and civilian Airmen – especially leaders – I believe there are two more important questions we need to ask ourselves and our Airmen – “When did the Air Force join you?” And “What did you do when the assignment got difficult?” These questions target the heart and soul of what makes our Airmen great and ensures we maintain the Air Force as the best in the world.
First – When did the Air Force join you? We all have our own reason for joining the Air Force. Some need a job. Some want to see the world. Some just don’t know what they want to do, and this seemed like the best option. Unless you are one of those “uber-motivated” folks who already bled true Air Force blue, we probably took our oath with at least a little (inside) voice wondering what we were getting into, and how long this was going to last – maybe it was actually screaming at you…
I walked into my recruiter’s office as a scrawny high school junior with two goals – get out of my hometown and stop this madness called school. I guess I was too naïve to realize I was actually going right back to school, and that I just entered a continuous learning lifestyle. The recruiter failed to mention that – among other things.
The next five years, I considered myself “in the Air Force.” Not a bad thing, just not bought into the whole package. I did well with firewall-9 reports, Senior Airman below-the-zone and Staff Sergeant promotions, and even married a beautiful young sergeant – life was good. I was still just “in” though.
The majority of our Airmen may enter and leave service without the Air Force really becoming “part of them.” In fact, there are Airmen who serve and perform exceptional service for our Nation, without ever considering the Air Force as more than just a job. Take it. Leave it. Maybe a means to an end goal?
For others, something special happens. There comes a time when we realize that the Air Force has joined us, and becomes an integral part of our self-identify. Where pride emanates from being considered an Airman, and core values directly align with our ideals to drive personal and professional actions, intent, goals and attitude. It could be an “ah-hah” moment or a long gradual evolution.
A young security police supervisor at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Staff Sergeant Hinsvark realized the Air Force finally joined him. I was living my dream life – taking care of Airmen/families, protecting the mission, and having fun. Every gear synchronized from that point forward, I could not envision any situation where my identity as a person, husband, person of faith, leader and Airman could ever be cleaved apart. Sure, there were sacrifices, but all elements of my life were aligned. I “drank the Kool-Aid” – and I LIKED IT!
Have you had a similar epiphany? If you have, then you get it. If not, I got it. Took me a while. As long as you continue to serve your Air Force faithfully, I have no issue. If it happens in the future, that’s great – welcome to our elite club of Airmen.
Why do I ask, well it ties into my second question – What did you do when the assignment got difficult?
On the spectrum, there are good and bad assignments. Even in the good assignments, there will be tough times. Fortunately, we always have the Air Force community and family to help support us when difficult times come – it’s what we do. It’s how we as Airmen react to, and push through these difficult times, that one can quickly assess whether someone is just in the Air Force, or the Air Force is in them.
For those of us with the Air Force as part of our core foundation, the trying times become easier to handle. It’s like an additional filter, where one’s perspective, motivation, vision and purpose to push forward become clearer. In every difficult time, it seemed my gears still aligned and granted me the power to endure and overcome. Those fundamental Airman core values and a positive attitude not only guided me, but hopefully served as a beacon for others to seek when faced with their own challenges.
So, whether you are a “lifer” or short-termer; wear a civilian or military uniform; serve in one or multiple locations – we have all joined together to serve here at Team XL. I can only pray you get the opportunity to experience the unique opportunity where the Air Force really joins you. For me, it has helped tremendously during my tough times – more so now than ever. Our Airmen, our mission and my family elevate me both higher and further than I could ever do alone.
I know one day it will come time to retire, hang up the uniform, and leave the active Air Force – probably sooner than I am willing to acknowledge. However, when it does happen, I know that our Airmen are in good hands, and that while I may end my uniformed service to our great Nation, I will forever be an Airman, and the Air Force will always be a vital part of me.