Today is an interesting day for me. I got my separation orders from the Air Force. That means that my separation date of June 20, 2013 is official (minus all my stored leave days). We all knew it was official in my mind and plans. We all knew I wasn't going to reenlist and by natural attrition I'd be out. We all even knew that I had submitted for separation. It was as official as official gets before you see any results on paper.
Based on the leave I have accrued, today is 90 days out from when I serve my last official day in uniform. That means it was time to call Air Force Personnel Center. Much to my surprise, the experience was smooth and I had orders in less than an hour. It is now 100% official. I'm going home! There are many boxes checked that are important; one of which is "honorable" under the discharge type.
I immediately posted my exciting news on Facebook, the go to place to share everything from your favorite song, to how you're feeling that day, to major life events. The "likes" and comments started rolling in. Some wonderful comments showed up in that thread. I'm ready to leave the military, I'm ready to move on, but for the last 9+ years, the Air Force has been my home, my way of life. It has helped shape and guide me as an adult, a professional and an American. I've had many mentors, most of whom served in that capacity a little differently from each of the others.
I'm tentative about putting names to paper because I will inevitably leave people out from what's to follow, but I mean no disrespect. So many of you have played a part over the last decade.
In the early days, Dan and Dusty were a tag team of country, redneck advice and leadership. I frustrated them constantly, but they never turned me away. They'd find answers to my most obscure questions and tease me while doing it. Matt, a young lieutenant at the time, never treated me like a young Airman. As someone on the outside before his military service, he recognized civilian experience and it's inherent value. Tommy was someone I didn't work with directly with until years later but with more stripes than me he helped keep me in check and was my personal voice of reason before the inevitable explosion. It's nice having a friend that is close enough to know you as a person, works close enough to know your situation, but is far enough removed to not directly influence. He was my consigliere through the toughest times in South Carolina. Chief Master Sergeant Frank Dannals became my Air Force dad and like a father he was quick to say good job, lend an ear or put a foot in my ass when it was most needed. I had people like Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Loveless, Colonel Hayes and Colonel Faughn that saw, in a young Airman, someone who had vision and energy and gave me opportunities beyond my Air Force years and let walk out onto limbs, even when they knew that not all of them would hold my weight; and they let me hit the ground in some cases as well. Mike Gifford played a bigger part than he knows. An extra stripe than me and my boss at one point; he didn't have the fire for technology that I had and was nearly in motion for his own separation and he all but handed the reigns to me and let me create an Air Force networks quality assurance, standardizations and evaluations program that has become the lion's share of the Air Force level program of the same name.
When I returned to Keesler to teach, due in no small part to Chief D's efforts, I immediately aligned with several people who have been there at every turn and in different ways. My "Tommy" of Mississippi is everyone's favorite "Pastor Sergeant" (retired Master Sergeant, now Pastor) Bill Collum. I vent and bitch and moan to him. I ask him questions. He hunts down answers. He advises and talks about the changes. He prognosticates (almost always correctly) about things to come in the Air Force.
Looking back at my decade of service, I can't begin to imagine what my life would be like without these people and their impacts on me. It's anybody's guess who I'd have turned out to be otherwise. I've stayed enough of myself and Dusty never got me to a NASCAR race, but I'm certainly more complete because of the efforts of everyone.
I'm going home and I will be successful at all costs. There's no doubt about it. My intellect and passion and work ethic will take me where I need to be. I have it in me to get there. I always have. That's exactly why so many people took me under their collective wings in the ways I needed most at the time to help build this complete package. I can't give you all the credit, right? It was what you already saw in me that caused you want to help along the way.
So, in 90 days or whatever it ends up being, I'll turn my car north and head for home and leave the military behind, but I'll take with me all the best parts I've gained over the years and those parts are the parts that many people have left with me. That makes you all shareholders in my success (non-voting shareholders with no dividends, of course - before you all start looking for payouts. HAHA).
So with that analogy in mind the only thing I can say to everyone is thank you for your investments in me over the years. I am who I am because of them.