Tag Archives: military life

Memory Lane

After a week under the weather, and in an effort to get past the bit of flu / cold / plague still lingering in my gut, I went for a brisk walk today. 

It’s 72 degrees and sunny. I have sunglasses, music, and a mug of coffee… plus I need some exercise anyway.

I walked past the house we lived in for eight years last time we came to Okinawa. It was alright when we moved in with a 4 year old daughter and almost 3 year old son. By the time we moved out, with four kids and two of them in double digit ages, it wasn’t quite so suitable. 

But it had a grand tree my oldest kids loved to climb. Perhaps somewhere on a hard drive, but definitely stored in my memory, is the image of my son’s grinning head popping out of the top boughs of the tree (a good twenty feet up). 

It also had a small hill down which the kids would ride their Tonka truck. They even tried “Okinawan sledding” by sliding down on flat cardboard. (I may also have tried these activities, but I can assure you they are not meant for grown-ups.)

The house is right across the street from a school with a huge playground. And as I crossed the street, three young children dashed across the open grass toward the swing sets and slides, laughing just like my littles used to. 

 

The place most of my kids will remember as “the park” when they were little.
 
I remember making that trip with the kids, to chase them around the park in games of “Monster” –which was basically ‘tag’ with a lot of roaring and other noise, and it usually ended with me laying vanquished on the ground, a victorious child trampling on my back.
Kadena is a large base, with many different housing areas. When I was first stationed here, after my wife and I married, we moved into a house just on the other side of the same park. I walked past that house today too.

The whole base is full of memories. There’s hardly a road I can drive–or in this case, walk–down without thinking, “That’s where so-and-so lived.” I walked past the house where my oldest son’s best friend lived… past the house that once belonged to the alcoholic mom with the adorable but crazy toddlers… past a home where my wife (then just a friend) house-sat for an older couple while they were on vacation… and several homes of church friends or former co-workers… places where we’ve enjoyed Sunday afternoons of food and fellowship, or Thanksgiving dinners, or Christmas season get-togethers.

19 years ago today, I went for a walk with my then-girlfriend. We were both stationed here on Kadena, living in dorms by the gym. We would walk for hours, chatting, saving geckos in the streets during the day and star-gazing at night.

 On that day, on a small concrete bridge where we liked to sit and talk, I paused to tie my shoe. 

Then I produced the ring I had worn on my pinky and popped the question. “Will you marry me?”

I waited until April 2nd so she wouldn’t think it was a gag.

That was half my lifetime ago. Half my life, more or less, on this island and stationed at this base. Half my life spent with the lovely woman who said yes… and I’m glad I can look back with fondness, not regret.

Thanks, Jami, and my awesome kids, who have all put up with so much over the years.

A Lifetime of Aftershocks

  

It’s Mother’s Day, and today I find myself considering the suffering that entails. It’s not an original thought, certainly. But it is one that touches me personally.

Childbirth seems to be the physical earthquake that leaves a lifetime of emotional aftershocks. Motherhood and sacrifice appear inextricably linked–so much so that it becomes all too easy to take for granted.

Our plans for my wife’s special day fit into a crowded schedule at work. Sunday turned out to be the one day she’d have me all to herself, the one day I could get the kids out of her hair for some length of time. I worked a full week and then some. And Saturday’s duty came with bad news.

My wife was about to find out Saturday night that I would have to depart first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day for a few days’ trip off island to avoid an inbound typhoon so that my unit can still perform our missions for the United States even if our home station is socked in with weather.

There’s no doubt in my mind that–though undeniably and appropriately frustrated–she would give me a hug and kiss, tell me she loves me, make sure the kids did the same, and settle in for a few days alone with four kids in the house awaiting the storm’s arrival and departure. Four kids–three of them battling a bit of cough, congestion, and fever. Four kids who get a lot of their, let’s say, “charm, creativity, and character” from me, much to my wife’s chagrin (and occasional delight). 

That I don’t have to worry or question her commitment astounds me, and makes me all the more grateful to this wonderful mother of my children. 

We luck out, and discover that we won’t have to leave quite so soon. Mother’s Day is back on.

It strikes me that I’ve spent more of my life in the military than out of it, a threshold I crossed a couple years ago, in fact. The pressures of sudden schedule changes and cancelled plans are nothing new. And I’ve had it incredibly good over the years compared to so many of my peers in the service. So I am not complaining or seeking pity here. That said, the life we’ve chosen sure comes with its share of challenges. 

My own mother spent hours listening to me play piano. We shared interests in music and creative expressions. I gained her laid-back “Type B” personality and sensitivity where my older brother and my father both loved history books, strategy games, and argumentative debates. Mom feared my soft-spoken personality would get crushed by the bullies and jocks of high school. She often wondered how I was doing and worried whether I’d be safe and out of trouble in my first few years away from home.

Being a parent now, I can see how there’s always a level of care and maybe even fear about your precious little ones. It’s a program running in the background of a parent’s mental computer, a constant blip on the radar. When I think of how mothers bond with their babies even before they’re born, I know my experience only scratches the surface of that attachment and concern.

Over the years, my mother (and father) bore the near-constant separation of military life with the bittersweet mixture of pride and longing one might expect. My family and I have been stationed in Japan for the majority of my 20-plus years of service. Through it all, Mom dealt with the painful distance between her and her grandkids on my side with what grace she could muster. Modern tech comforts like Skype and MagicJack make things a little easier.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get ready for a few days away from home. And I’ll make a phone call back to the States to thank my awesome Mom and wish her a happy day. Then, while the kids are still (hopefully) asleep, I’ll thank my wife for her own awesome mothering and slip out the door.

The Air Force has been focused on “resiliency” over the last few years, trying to educate and help its Airmen find ways to bounce back from stressful situations and potentially overwhelming experiences in their lives. I wonder if they’ve considered everything moms go through, and what makes a mother get back up and press on each time life brings another wave of hurt or weariness. 

Seems to me there’s a lot we could learn.

To my mother and my wife, who have made so many sacrifices that I’ve seen and probably many more that I’ve overlooked, thank you. To them both, and to the many women out there who do the same for their loved ones, their biological children, or those they’ve adopted literally or figuratively as their own:

You are awesome and the world is a better place due to your part in it. Your sacrifices matter, and your profound love is appreciated. 

Thank you.  

Dripping Water Cuts Stone

There’s a Bruce Lee “quote” I seem to recall from <em>Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story</em>. Turns out, it’s a quote of Lao Tzu, or very similar to it.

Water is the softest thing. Yet it can penetrate mountains and earth.

My Chinese teacher used a similar phrase to encourage me after I improved my language scores slightly: 滴水穿石 - di shui chuan shi

Found at:  http://theinkzenmaster.org
Found at: http://theinkzenmaster.org

It means “Dripping water penetrates stone.”

(Oh, you can see that clearly in the image. Well then.)

The intended meaning is clear: little by little, with constant effort, we make progress toward what might seem a difficult goal.

There’s wisdom in that, of course. Excellence and success aren’t often made of singular actions or short bursts of greatness. If they are born of an instant, it’s often because in that moment, we responded the way we do every day to the thousand pressures and stresses we face.

Yet there’s a darker side to the quote. When I think of the military’s loss of talented and intelligent officers and enlisted, this phrase comes to mind. In all the justifications I’ve heard my peers offer for why they do not wish to stay in, there’s rarely some defining moment or negative experience that drove them away from further service.

It’s dripping water cutting through stone.

Many of our soldiers, sailors, Airmen, and Marines chafe under blanket policies restricting everyone’s activity in order to attempt to prevent the troublesome few from doing anything wrong. We have servicemembers who are old enough to bear arms in defense of our nation, putting in twelve hour shifts standing guard every day, ensuring security for our bases and resources. Yet they are not old enough or responsible enough to make their own decisions while off-duty; many fall under policies establishing curfew hours, restrictions on alcohol consumption, and required reporting of planned holiday travel down to the estimated number of hours and miles of driving each day.

All too often, instead of leaders, we get babysitters – who are themselves forced to “take action” by fear of the consequences of any sign of failure.

However, the burden of being treated like a nursery isn’t all that wears our service members down. A myriad of individually minor grievances contribute to the problem.

Every day, our “best and brightest” wake up to face a shower of priorities, trickling streams from several directions, all clamoring for attention. There’s a new computer-based training or CBT that the whole unit has to complete within the month. Everyone has to turn in updated copies of some form so that someone’s program looks up-to-date. Binders need new cover pages and spine markings so that they all match across the entire unit. Someone found a requirement in an obscure regulation and all the aircrew members are showing up overdue.

The form you turned in isn’t the most current version. The certificate you received for completing a training course doesn’t have the blank back side, so it’s not a valid form. We need you to log four events so that you show up as having all your events logged because if you don’t get all your events, it looks bad for us, and we refuse to look bad. Also go get your flu shot, because you show up “red” on the tracker. And finish your CBT for skills you’ll never use. Finally, I know you’re outprocessing for your next deployment, but we need you to complete the post-deployment survey from your trip a year ago, so you need to schedule an appointment for that.

Our organizations are often cumbersome and entrenched in old methods of management and mission accomplishment. The figurative ceilings are pocked with holes. Every day, our Armed Forces members rush to place buckets under each of these dripping streams of water, scrambling from one “top priority” to the next whenever it overflows. This can certainly be true in the civilian workforce as well.

It takes time, but water will cut through stone, just as frustration and mismanagement can eventually defeat even the greatest determination and optimism.

People talk about the military bleeding talent, and wonder how we can stop the bloodflow. Maybe the holes we most need to plug up are the ones dripping from the rooftop.

Asking Better Questions

This is the second “God Leads” devotional post drawn from my experiences serving in the military.

GOD LEADS US TO ASK BETTER QUESTIONS

…Being content with what you have, for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)

My friend counseled me, “Ask yourself ‘Where do I need to be to do God’s will?’ Then your choice becomes easy.”
It didn’t seem so simple.
My overseas tour was almost finished. I could take an assignment in the States, or stay on Okinawa for another tour.
A distant relative lived near my next duty station. She received a cancer diagnosis, and didn’t have long to live. My wife and I wanted to be there for her.
But the pastor of our church on Okinawa started to train me for ministry. I served as the worship leader and I helped prepare medical relief missions trips to reach people in poverty. I also had the opportunity to preach. I felt connected and vital.
I struggled with the decision for weeks. In my mind, there was a right choice and a less-than-perfect choice. But which was which? Staying would mean doing great things for the local church and the poor in nearby nations. Going could be a chance to minister to a loved one.
My commander, a Christian, saw me in the hallway at work and asked how I was doing. I shared my frustration.
“Sometimes we think we have to choose A or B,” he said. “We think if we choose wrong, we miss what God is doing. But I take great comfort in knowing we can’t go somewhere God is not present.” Then he quoted the verse in Hebrews.
“Is God going to be there, whichever way you choose?”
I wanted an answer. God gave me a better question to consider.

Application: Sometimes God responds to our concerns by changing our perspective.

Taking Root

Thinking of my kids as we move, and the advice I’d rather not give them but I know applies:

Push those roots down
But not too deep
Widespread roots come up easy
Ripping away some clods of dirt
Leaving a scar on the surface
Which quickly covers over
With new grass

Deep roots don’t come up
Without violent force
Strong hands grasping,
Crushing, straining
Until everything breaks free
Deep roots leave a hole
And a damaged plant

Found a new place for you
A familiar spot to settle in
The ground is soft and moist
The air warm and damp
You’ll grow well here
So push those roots down
But not too deep.

Sacrifice

My wife’s father Jim passed away about a month ago. Over the last few years, he had long-term health issues and several near-deaths or even instances of resuscitation after heart failure. So this wasn’t exactly a surprise.

A few days ago we had a long conversation with my mother-in-law where she filled us in on some background stories from Jim’s life. Naturally this included some details about other aspects of their family’s history. Jim served in the Navy during Viet Nam (never was sent there), and we learned that his dad served too, during WW II. My wife wondered if her maternal grandfather ever served, and we learned he was for whatever reason medically disqualified from serving, even though the military was accepting men well above the age we currently allow to enlist.

Then my mother-in-law talked about the ways “Grandad” served as a civilian. He raised and kept rabbits, since “all the meat was sent over for the troops, of course.” This led to some other discussions about how everyone pitched in, how so many communities and civilians aided the war effort.

On an unrelated note, we visited my parents for Christmas, and received a surprise present in the form of coins collected over several decades. My 12-year-old loves coins (and rocks), and was fascinated to see so much history. In one book of pennies, we found the 1943 steel penny, a spot of silver in a sea of copper. Naturally my son was curious why. So we talked again about the war effort and the ways that the nation adjusted and adapted in order to ensure that our fighting men had what they needed in order to carry out their missions.

Those moments stuck out in my mind. In the last month, I’ve also witnessed lots of discussion about the Ryan-Murray budget deal, and how it saves $6B over 10 years by changing the retirement deal for many recent military retirees and currently serving members of our Armed Forces – myself included. Some have pointed out that there’s no legal guarantee stipulating exactly how military retirement will work for an individual. There’s no signed contract from the military promising a particular deal forever. But there are multiple briefings and counseling sessions along a 20+ year career explaining the way retirement pay works, and the hundreds of thousands of actively serving military members make their decisions and base their lives around expectations based on what they’re briefed.

“Oh, that budget thing is old news. It’s already been voted on and passed. You’re a month behind, Dave.”

Yeah, I’m still thinking about it, though. It’s funny. Maybe that’s because I’ll be directly impacted by it for about the next 20-24 years, and indirectly impacted for the rest of my life. If you found out you’d be taxed $80K over the next 20 years, you might be a little up in arms over it too. And that’s just the raw numbers, let alone the sense of breach of trust.

Speaking of breach of trust, here are the folks in the Senate who voted yes.  And this link shows the names of Representatives and how they voted.

Maybe vote, not as Republican or Democrat, but as Anti-Incumbent.
Maybe vote, not as Republican or Democrat, but as Anti-Incumbent.

There’s an article on Business Insider talking about the long-term costs of these short-term budgetary gains, and it’s the best piece on this subject that I’ve read thus far. It’s long, but worth a read, because this issue matters.

Think of this as sort of a re-blog. It seems a good way to start off 2014 on this site.

That the nation’s leaders can so blatantly and blithely alter the deal without addressing more significant budgetary issues is disconcerting to say the least. Perhaps some of that stems from how such a small portion of the U.S. population has any real first-hand experience sacrificing or adjusting their lives around the costs of our current 12 year war effort or any other recent military actions.

Instead, we get comedians joking about how Spaghetti-Os are the only food Pearl Harbor survivors can eat. Because, get it? Haha, they’re OLD. Ha. Ha.

What do you think? Are we doing right by those who served? Do we risk losing the faith of those who would volunteer in the future? Or are we gambling that those who were willing to sacrifice so much thus far can suck it up a bit more, while our country (and its populace) continues living beyond its means? Let me know your thoughts in a comment. Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy New Year.

The Cons

“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.

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Thursday Happies

Normally I have a Thursday Tirade – usually about some facet of leadership and management in the military.

This week, my tirade was DENIED by my Chief Enlisted Manager, our squadron’s Chief Master Sergeant whose job it is to fight for the needs and interests of the enlisted folk.

I’ve been waiting to get some surgery done on my right foot, and the operation has already been scheduled and postponed once due to the needs of the Air Force. For a month or so, the rescheduled surgery date has been awaiting approval. That approval did not come until 7 PM on the night before the surgery was scheduled. And it did not come except for the hard work and effort of my Chief to fight on my behalf.

I anticipated delaying surgery “one more time,” which I’ve learned usually means “several more ‘one more times.'” I even typed up a lovely rant about it. The vent post was sitting on my iPad, ready to publish as soon as I knew for sure that the answer was “no.” But then, after multiple trips back-and-forth to speak to squadron leadership, my Chief walked in and gave a double thumbs-up.

She read the rant and said, “I’m very glad you didn’t have to post this.”

Me too.

In the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of good news about the Air Force, not just related to my self-centered needs. Though I have said in the past that I fear that there is a general decline in the quality of leadership, there are glimmers of hope. While I’ve seen managers who are unwilling or ignorant to the balance between accomplishing the mission and taking care of people, there are still compassionate senior leaders out there.

Last week, we found out who was selected for Senior Master Sergeant, and I saw a friend’s name on the list. Chris is one of the smartest people I know as far as our job is concerned, and he has always been quick to fight the trend toward silly or unsafe decisions in flying operations. He was one of my first supervisors in the Air Force, and he is definitely one of the few who demonstrated that they cared. He did not accept mediocrity, but he also mentored me to show me how to improve.

Another Senior Master Sergeant selectee is a former co-worker and supervisor from my time at Kadena. Steph is also one of the hardest working people with whom I’ve served. She knew how to push our office to succeed and yet ensured we could relax and have fun when mission requirements permitted it. She exemplified our squadron’s unofficial motto of “work hard, play hard,” and she led our office and our squadron to some amazing accomplishments as a result. On the personal level, she fought for me and my needs, but she also fought against my procrastination and laziness to force me to be a better NCO.

My neighbor across the street is also on the selection list. When my family moved across the world from Okinawa to Nebraska, we had no sponsor, no official welcome or assistance with how to find our way around a new base. We moved into our new house on base, and our next-door neighbor literally turned his back and pretended like he did not see us. But not Charlie. He saw me struggling a few days later with the ice and snow that had built up in our driveway, and he immediately came out to help with an ice-breaking tool. He’s the guy who pushes a snow blower around the neighborhood, clearing out driveways and sidewalks for about ten families in addition to his own. In the back of his house, he has a virtual farm of fresh produce growing through the warmer months, and several times this year, he has brought over extra fruit and vegetables to us and to other neighbors because “Hey, what am I going to do with all of this?” He genuinely seems to enjoy helping others.

And yesterday, while sitting with my foot in a splint, I hopped on Facebook to discover that one of the best officers I’ve had the pleasure of serving under just got selected for Colonel. In my experience, John was a no-nonsense leader who knew how to get things done. But more than that, he knew how to prioritize what needed to be done in order for us to succeed, and he tried hard to keep us from dealing with time-wasting projects. He showed great leadership and yet remained approachable.

Is everything great in my little corner of the Air Force? As we deal with sequestration and budget cuts, with aging airframes and low retention rates, with an ever-decreasing pool of experience, it’s definitely become more difficult to keep up with demands. When we get managers that seem to care about nothing more than their next performance report, it’s hard at times to remain motivated.

So it’s with great pleasure that I see some of the future leaders we’re raising up, and it gives me hope.

I don’t have a rant today, and yes, Chief, I’m very happy about that.

What I Love

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.

Kadena AB, 2012
Best job ever. Usually.

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.