It's no secret that with less than a year left on my current life, I've been thinking, talking, and writing about it pretty consistently. It seems that every time my fingers hit these keys, the words that form revolve around my impending separation from the military and all the other changes that come as a result. I speak with excitement about moving home and being close to family and working in whatever aspect of technology my new career focuses on.
What I haven't mentioned is something that I've been avoiding, whether I knew it or not. The fact remains that over the last decade I've done something. Something big. As my last blog mentioned, the military is comprised of less than 1% of the US population. It's not a job. It's a lifestyle. It is actually a way of life. And while it's not the way of my entire life, 10 years is a long time. Hell, it's nearly a third of my life to this point.
More than that, what we actually do in the military matters. I remember conversations with my mother about joining the FDNY in what was our new post-9/11 life. It was the initial inspiration to do something bigger than myself. I recall talking about that desire. The Palm Pilot was still all the rage and I made reference to my legacy being synchronizing some executive's computer calendar to his Palm because he knocked the cable out with his fat foot in $400 wingtip shoes. Residency requirements and demons with the FDNY loss my family suffered, precluded fulfilling that new legacy. After some floundering I found myself in a different uniform.
What we do is not about business. It serves a higher purpose. There is much good in it. I managed to get that chip off my shoulder. I found purpose. And for all these long years I served my country and that purpose with a deep sense of pride, despite getting caught up in the day-to-day at times. I'm going back to the NY technology lifestyle, but differently. It isn't about corporate and money anymore. My plan is to exist within the startup space. Lots of innovation and vision. Using new and emerging technologies to change the world and how we interact. Civilian work with military sense of purpose and bigger picture accomplishments.
The uniform I wear every day is functional. It camouflages me and my brethren from those who wish to do us harm. Additionally, it helps us accomplish our mission by virtue of the fact that we all wear it. We call our squadrons units. We work as one team. We move as one. We are uniform and we wear a uniform to remind us of that. Every single work day since July 15, 2003 I have, robotically, grabbed one from my closet and put it on. They've traveled and been donned in many states and multiple countries. They identify me to a very grateful civilian public. They are not clothes. They are equipment. They accompany and enable me.
Tonight, I had a series of images flash in my mind. It was my last day of my military service. I finished my final bit of out processing. I surrendered my military identification and drove off base. I couldn't get back onto a military installation if I wanted to. I came home. It was mostly packed for my move. I took off my uniform and laid it on my bed. In my realization, I had a realization. I would not put it back on ever again. My second skin was officially a memento. My clothing would never again be representative of me more than style and comfort. They would not be a utility.
In my realization within a realization I stopped. I looked at my uniform. I touched it. I ran my hand over my embroidered name tape carefully feeling the letters. I did the same, even more carefully, over the one that reads U.S. Air Force. Then I grabbed one of my sleeves and pinched my stripes in half, enhancing the sharp crease that runs down the middle. Staff Sergeant - a rank of leadership. A non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. I folded the uniform neatly and squarely with crisp corners and razor sharp edges. Blouse on top of pants. Hat on top of both. I picked them up between my hands - one underneath, palm up and the other on top, palm down; cradling it the way we hold the American flag. I nestled it on top of everything else in a suitcase. It was the only thing so neat and rigid on top of a pile of haphazardly packed clothes. It was as if it had been laid to rest and maintained itself as a shining example of the order and discipline instilled in me from the day it was issued to me.
They say clothes don't make the man. These aren't clothes. One more example of how these threads are woven to represent something. They have come to mean something to me. I will miss the message they deliver. I'll miss the mission they help accomplish. I'll miss the global sense of purpose.
I know I'm onto the life meant for me. I know I'm preparing to do what I'm meant to do with the rest of my life. I also know that none of that would happen without this. I've been windswept by what I am heading toward that I have been quick to gloss over what I'm leaving behind. The gain outweighs the loss, but there is loss nonetheless. Somehow, I foresee more of these realizations in the ensuing months.