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Autopilot off, journey on

Col. Michelle Pryor, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander, opens the entry door to the T-1 Jayhawk that bears her name at her fini-flight at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, May 31, 2018. Pryor retired with her husband, Lt. Col. David Pryor, 96th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, the next day on the same stage they both graduated specialized undergraduate pilot training on in class 99-05.

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

In February of 1999, my husband and I both walked across the stage in Anderson Hall here at Laughlin Air Force Base, TX, to receive our pilot wings.  Nineteen years later, we are preparing to walk across that very same stage together again.  This time, we will be receiving our retirement orders.   

While preparing for our upcoming retirement, we’ve had the chance to look back through hundreds of old photos, each with its own memory, its own story.  It made us realize how lucky our family has been.  Throughout our Air Force journey, we’ve experienced opportunities and adventures that some people can only dream about.

In reflecting on our Air Force adventures, we also realized that many of the assignments – jobs or locations – were not our first choice.  Yet, each assignment ended up being an incredible experience.   Each assignment brought new people to meet, a new mission to contribute to and a new place to explore.  As we look back now, it’s really the people who made each assignment memorable. We met amazing friends at every location and never stopped traveling.  It’s a great reminder that every assignment is an opportunity and will end up being exactly what you make of it!  

Although I am taking extra time to reflect back on my career now, I found I often turned on my “autopilot” as I moved through my daily activities.  Yes, I enjoy flying airplanes and while flying, and autopilot can be a great help, freeing up brain cells to concentrate on other demanding tasks.  But how often do we rush through each day with our own personal autopilot engaged?  As we move from one task to the next, how often do we take the time to appreciate the people we interact with or notice the events going on around us?  Again, as I reflect on my past assignments, I can’t help but remember it’s the incredible people I met who made the biggest difference in my life.

Despite turning a personal autopilot on for daily routines, you may have long term goals as well.  At Laughlin Air Force Base, those goals may include completing pilot training and earning an assignment of choice for student pilots.  For others, the goal may be taking a family vacation, completing a degree you are working toward or perhaps preparing for an upcoming permanent change of station.  Maintaining a long term goal is important as it may help keep you motivated for the future.  Whatever your long term goals may be, remember to occasionally turn your autopilot off and enjoy each and every day along the way. 

During our 21 years in the Air Force, the minutes and hours sometimes seemed to pass by slowly, but the months and years absolutely flew by.  I attribute the quick passage of time to filling up our days and weeks with great people and amazing adventures.  I encourage you to make the most of every opportunity your Air Force service brings.  And most importantly, remember to enjoy the journey!