Some of my recent rants on Facebook or in this forum have highlighted problems I’ve encountered with leadership in the military… so much so that I got some pointed feedback on one Facebook post asking about my plans to separate (…which I turned into a different rant, but that’s beside the point).
I was thinking how easy it is to focus on all the bad things and complain about what I think is wrong or what I don’t like, while paying no attention to all the good that has come from the last 18 years in the military.
So this is my tirade about what I love about this job.
Skills: As a guy fresh out of high school, I was an experienced grocery bagger and stock-boy. I also had a paper route. Highly marketable skills. The Air Force taught me two foreign languages and trained me for intelligence production and first-line analysis. Then they instructed me as an aircrew member and developed my communication skills and crisis management. They’ve taught me decision-making and resource management, and they’ve shuffled me through a variety of jobs and programs that give me some understanding of what works and what doesn’t in a corporate office. Perhaps most importantly, I have been in a variety of positions requiring management and interaction with other people, whether as peers, subordinates, or supervisors. I’ve learned how to get along with others in order to get the job done, even when we personally don’t see eye to eye. I’ve developed empathy for the needs of others, and I like to think that there’s some element of the servant-leadership we hear about during military education–that leadership style which says “I as a leader am here to take care of your needs as you accomplish the mission.” Most of these skills have proven essential over the years, and I know they’ll serve me well after I take off the flight suit and set a retirement shadow box up on the shelf.
Travel: One of the main selling points of military service is that “you get to see the world.” I am quite grateful in this regard. Prior to Basic Training, I never traveled more than two or three hours outside the Chicago area. Now I can say that I have stood on the beaches and battlefields of Okinawa, and I’ve enjoyed the weather in Florida. I hiked the side of Mount Fuji and ate wild strawberries in autumn in the hills of Washington state. I’ve walked the Las Vegas strip at night and visited rural villages in the Philippines on a medical relief mission. I’ve driven through every state west of the Mississippi and I’ve flown around the world. From the markets of Doha, to the temples of Thailand, from the scenic drives of the Monterey Bay, to the tropical paradise of Diego Garcia, I have seen far more of the world than I ever expected. And I have the Air Force to thank for this.
Experiences: The travel is made all the sweeter because of the special memories associated with these places. There’s the satisfaction of flying operational sorties that provide needed intelligence to soldiers on the ground in harm’s way. There’s the excitement of seeing another nation’s military in operation, up close and personal. There’s the joy of interacting with members of other services and other nation’s Air Forces, learning about our commonalities and our different styles of operations. Then there’s the unique opportunities – picnics with the crew eating tuna steaks fresh off a grill, from a fish that was swimming in the open ocean three hours earlier… pig roasts at the park, parties on the beach, and crew traditions in the squadron lounge, hearing stories from the men and women who were doing this job long before I enlisted… connecting with fellow believers around the world and walking into a Chapel on the other side of the earth from home, accepted and allowed to minister to the local congregation through music and song. There’s the special camaraderie that comes from dealing with a frustrating or challenging situation, and knowing that I’m not alone in this, that I’m there with my brothers and sisters in arms, and we’re all fighting to get through it. (And also I got to fly an F-15 that one time.)
People: These experiences would be nothing without the special and tremendous group of people that make up the Armed Forces. On a day-to-day basis, I get to interact with people who have (for one reason or another) raised their right hand and volunteered their service and their very lives for a cause greater than themselves. Not only that, but my job puts me in constant contact with the very best and brightest of this special class of American. As a sheltered young man from a very conservative background who preferred solitude to socializing, my time in the Air Force has been eye-opening, shattering any stereotypes and preconceived notions I had about anyone “not me.” Every day I see people who are totally different from me, and yet they share the desire to excel in what we do, to improve the situations and circumstances around them, to take care of the needs of their fellow Airmen and those less fortunate. I see the selfless service and devotion of individuals to their peers and to this nation, and I am deeply proud to be a part of it. More importantly, when our task sucks and our deadline is looming, and we’re pushing ourselves to the limits to get the job done, I feel a sense of success as my peers tell me, “You made that difficult time better for me. Thanks.”
Family: There is a special group of people that I wouldn’t know at all if it was not for my time in the Air Force. I met my wife in 1996 when she was serving in the Air Force as a Civil Engineering troop on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. She was my ride to church, my sister in Christ, eventually my best friend, and soon after, my fiancee. We met because a friend from Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas had a neighbor who had a friend on Okinawa who was a missionary from Hong Kong who happened to know another young Airman who attended a good church where I felt accepted and loved. That’s a mouthful! Now I have a wonderful teenage daughter and three amazing sons (and a pain-in-the-butt wiener dog).
So… when I complain on Facebook about the Air Force doing something stupid, or when I go off on a Thursday Tirade about mismanagement and abuse of power, please understand that I am not whining because I hate my job. I’m venting because I have so many reasons to love this job. So I get upset when our silliness and poor decisions obscure all the awesome reasons to join and stay in the military.
My friends know that when something difficult comes up at work, I will occasionally mutter, “I love my job I love my job I love my job” in an intentionally unconvincing monotone. We all laugh – misery loves company, after all.
But maybe, way deep down, I secretly mean it.