I don’t feel qualified to speak for all the veterans of our great country, however I will attempt, in speaking for myself only, share something that a few vets out there can relate to. When I
enlisted, it was a matter of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I was eighteen years old, living with my girlfriend and her parents, trying to help raise a two year old little girl. My girlfriend, now my wife of over twenty years, Vanessa, and I were both working at the county country club, she was a waitress and I was washing dishes. We were also going to classes at our local junior college trying to prepare ourselves to reach for goals that appeared nearly impossible to attain.
Needless to say, my enlistment wasn’t a matter of patriotism, it was a matter of necessity. That being said, I will never regret my choice to join the military because I got so much more out of it then job security for my family.
For twenty years, I specialized in maintaining electrical systems on various military aircraft, but I received much more from my time I spent on Air Force flightlines then just a technical skill. I learned that not only did I have an aptitude for electrical maintenance, a type of work I never even considered getting involved in, I learned about who I was as a person.
I lived for the opportunities to perform under pressure. In the moments when a mission’s success or failure was determined by whether I, or my team, would be able to troubleshoot a system’s malfunction. Usually when a plane’s engines were running and it was minutes away
from its scheduled departure. Personally, that’s probably what I miss the most.
Something else I discovered about myself was that I had a sort of talent for making
interpersonal connections with people of different backgrounds. The bonds I created with people, in every unit I served in, were probably the hardest part of not being on active duty anymore. The camaraderie, the teamwork, the esprit de corps that came with mission accomplishment is second to none.
I was hooked on all of it. The necessity of having to bring my “A-game” to work everyday because the work I did mattered. Not in the way of crunching numbers, even though that was part of it, but it mattered in the way that actual human lives relied upon my performance as a professional technician. It mattered in the way that, if mine, or my teams, performance was regularly subpar, our country’s American way of life could be at risk.
So, when it came time to retire, I’m sure one might imagine that there was going to need to be some adjustment on my part. Needless to say, however, I did not do a very good job of preparing myself. I knew the day was coming when I would not have to wear the uniform anymore, and I was genuinely excited, but I never realized just how different life was going to be on “the outside.”
Luckily, what I considered to be an identity crisis, did not last long, thanks to some counseling and a drug prescription. I promptly found myself back on track and refocused to make a difference in the world.
I enrolled into college seeking a degree in Education in the hopes that I act as a role model for students who, in my opinion, could use a few more beacons of light in their lives. Especially in the public school system, I hope to effect some change for the better.
In my experience, there are a lot of veterans who have the same difficulty transitioning back to the real world. Like me, they miss being a part of a bigger mission, if you will. To be empowered with great responsibilities and to be challenged to meet high expectations. To be part of a family.
Most veterans, I think, feel the same way, which is that while on active duty, life was structured and it made sense. Life had purpose and it had meaning. For many vets, finding new meaning and purpose can be difficult.
Personally, I joined the service because I had “life stuff” going on and I had to make a choice for my situation and the stability of my family. What I got in return was so much more. I learned a skill, I inherited brothers and sisters from around the country, my life was given meaning and purpose, and in the end just figured out who I was personally.
In the end, I’m proud to have been a part of it all. To have been a piece in the bigger picture of what it takes to secure our great country. I’m grateful for every experience, good and bad, and especially the personal connections I made along the way.
My greatest takeaway from my time in the Air Force was this: America is the greatest country in the world. It’s not even close. I will forever be grateful to be a citizen of this great nation and proud to have served in its military.