Thursday, December 15, 2011

Release

As everyone knows, I've been counting the days until I get to go home and become a civilian again. I've been getting progressively more excited as the time wears thin. I'm not long for this job. Plus I have so much to get back to and things are looking up in so many parts of life. At the same time, I have always been dedicated to what I do. I'm always one of the first to show up and last to leave. I got forced to take leave in 2011 by a boss because I'm never not there. I don't generally flaunt my military accomplishments because I'm just a guy doing the best I can, but let's clear a couple of things up. In 8 and a half years, I have never been written up or counseled for negative behavior to even the most minute level. I received my first Air Force Achievement Medal with 11 months in service; something generally picked up with an average of 3 years in service. I am the very first Staff Sergeant/E-5 (as far as anyone who's been here 15-20 years can remember) to be an instructor supervisor; this position is usually held by a Master Sergeant/E-7 or, in a pinch, Technical Sergeant/E-6. This time last year I ran the schoolhouse's evening shift which consisted of 25 instructors and 140 students in my care every day. I was recommended for this position by 2 Chief Master Sergeants. I've done more than one trip to the middle east and back. Bottom line, I've done well in my military career and take serious pride in my work.

I did all of that in spite of having a difficult time adapting to military life at some points. I was 6-7 years older than the average enlistee when I arrived. I dumped years of technical experience that I was told "didn't matter, because my job was to just do." I have been battling, for 2 years, a complex muscle problem in my legs and underwent 4 surgeries for a combined 76 staples used to hold me back together. I showed up to this base on crutches, I taught (standing for 10 hours) with the help of a cane.

I always knew the military would be temporary. It was never part of my life's plan. However, I would give 100% every single day until my life changed. I swallowed hard when I didn't agree with decisions or the system and pressed on. The mission was bigger than me. This job was about the nation, our freedom, more locally - my students. I can pass our tests, I'm not here for me. I'm here to train the next generation. My replacements. And I would do so until my last day here, with excitement and pride.

I had a situation yesterday. A minor hiccup in the scheme of things. I maintain that 99.9% of it had nothing to do with me. The details are less than important. The point is that I went to part of my leadership looking for support. The person I spoke with is someone high enough in the chain to make a decision and someone with whom I have a good rapport - a very good rapport. The response I received was not supportive. I don't mean not supportive enough. I mean not at all. I rarely reach out to people that high on the food chain for assistance, but yesterday it was necessary. I have never been so disappointed in the "military family."

But it's not all bad. There is a positive takeaway from it. As I gear up for a life change and separation fro the military and transition to civilian life, I have always felt a hole. I knew there would be loss. Being home with friends and family in an area I love, making tons of money brings so much good into my life, but leaving behind all I've known for a decade would still present a loss. And I didn't know how I would handle that. After what I saw yesterday, that all changed. I've seen the Air Force changing, and not in a way I liked.

Less than 1% of the US population ever puts the uniform on. I did every day for over 8 years so far. I did my part and then some. I've done all I've been asked to do without complaining and with pride. I've done for my country and now I can do for me. I've always known that, but now I fully feel it. I could walk away tomorrow and be comfortable. I don't need to finish every last day of this enlistment to feel a sense of completion. I have been released and set free from this self-imposed sense of obligation. I don't have to do it JUST because I said I would.

So while I spent most of yesterday upset and disheartened and disappointed; I chose to look at positively. I'm free to walk away guilt free, when the time comes.

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