“We’ll probably never come back,” I told my wife as we left Okinawa, our home for a total of 14 years. We were headed to Offutt Air Force Base, a place I knew I never wanted to be stationed based on what I heard from my friends overseas.
Never say never, so goes the logic, especially where the military is concerned.
On the first day of our four-day Labor Day weekend, I got an assignment notification from the military. We are headed back to Japan at the start of the year.
I started thinking of the positives and negatives about this decision. If I say no, I lose the ability to retire. So although I say “pros and cons” like it matters, there really isn’t a choice involved.
Okinawa is beautiful, the additional money for living overseas is a useful financial blessing, and after so long overseas, Okinawa feels a lot like home. I know what to expect from my job there, and my family is eager to visit our favorite places. “The beach!” my teenage daughter exclaims. There are some fantastic pros to going.
Then the thought of actually leaving hits home, and I’m surprised by how bittersweet this news is. There’s the initial shock and the dread of moving, with all the hassle of outprocessing and air travel as a family. But the list of cons goes far deeper.
Even though we never thought we’d want to be in Omaha, Nebraska, this base and this town have captured a place in our hearts. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, and it’s because of people here:
The coworkers I encounter every day – I work at the school house, the initial training squadron for my career field. I train sharp students and have the privilege of collaborating every day with the very best of my career field. There is so much knowledge and experience in our building, I often feel like I’m learning as much as the students we train.
The true leaders – There are plenty of Air Force managers out to run programs and score great bullets for performance reports. But I’ve been lucky enough to work for several officers and enlisted leaders who go further, who are willing to take a hit in order to take care of their people. When I’ve succeeded, they’ve recognized it. When I’ve failed, they’ve corrected it with grace. And while I feel privileged to work for them, they’ve expressed confidence in me and gratitude for my contributions. I have rarely felt as valued in the workplace.
The sincere friends – There are many who know enough about me to look down on my faults, to point and laugh at my mistakes. Yet I’ve had friends come alongside to strengthen my weaknesses instead of exploiting them. When I didn’t perform in my job duties in one area as well as I should have, I found support and restoration to get me back on track. When I struggled with fitness, I had coworkers who cheered me on to success and stopped me from beating myself up.
The surrogate family – There are few things that touch my heart as much as when someone touches the heart of my children. When you take time to meet my kid’s needs and put a smile on their face, you’ve won me over. I think of the worship pastor who looked out at a mens’ meeting, saw my oldest son standing alone, and then left the platform to go put an arm around him when I was stuck at the piano. I think of the leaders and pastors that have connected my daughter to a passionate group of peers, so that she comes home each week bursting with joy. I picture the BX vendor who takes time to let my son share his rock collection and trade with her for the polished stones she uses to make jewelry. There’s the surrogate grandmother who stepped in to create a special birthday for each of my children – especially for the middle child who often gets left out by his older siblings. And there are the writers who not only push me on, but encourage my wife to share her experiences as a source of help for those enduring painful situations. I often get the spotlight, but some light shined on Jami when she least expected it, and more than anywhere in our past, she has been blessed here. So I have been likewise blessed.
My actual family – My brother and my sister-in-law offered to fly our oldest children to my hometown to visit with their grandparents. They traveled with their two small children to visit us when we weren’t able to come to them. My mother-in-law arrives in a couple weeks to do the same. My parents, along with them, have borne the frustration and the pain of separation from family with patience and endurance. The thought of travelling far from home again is unsettling, because I want so much to be closer to loved ones.
So, as I consider what lies ahead, imagine my surprise at the tug on my heart. I am not a Husker fan, so perhaps I am not a true Nebraskan. But I am grateful nonetheless that I have so many reasons to want to stay in the place that I never wanted to go.
You all are the cons, the reasons we will miss Offutt.
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.