Commentary Search

My Air Force Career (Part One)

U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Seraiah Hines

U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Seraiah Hines/Released.

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

Before the spring of 2016, I had never seriously considered joining the military. Yes, I had briefly thought about how fun becoming a hardcore combatively trained person would be, but it was only daydreaming.

I had no idea that by spring of 2017, my life would completely change. It was a tough, different, lonely, fulfilling and eye-opening change.

But let me back track a little. By the early summer of 2016, I was tired of many things, my town, my boss and always trying to do my best in everything, but never feeling like I was going to see the fruits of my labor. I started thinking about what I could do to get out, try something different, travel and complete school.

I wanted something I could see myself creating a career out of. I was tired and annoyed with the limited opportunities in my little town. I wanted a challenge, something new, something more or a part of a bigger picture.

The military came to mind. “If you are going to join the military, join the Air Force,” said my husband Robert. Having served in the Army prior to meeting me, I took him at his word. I looked up the nearest Air Force recruiter’s office, still over 80 miles from my town, and called for an appointment. By the time I made it to the office, my mind was already made up. I was doing this and I didn’t care what job I got. I just wanted to sign-up and leave as soon as I could.

My parents were both very supportive. “You know, I am super proud of you for wanting to join the Air Force, but I did enjoy my time with the Navy,” said my father. “But you go into whatever branch you want, I’ll be proud of you no matter what.”

“I think this will be really good for you,” said my mother. “You thrive off of organization and discipline. This seems like a perfect environment.”

In Oct. 2016, I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and signed my first contract. Now I had to submit my job preferences and wait to see what job I would be assigned. This would determine the time I left for my basic training.

I was so excited I started giving away things. Most of my makeup and over half of my closet, went to my friends and younger siblings. I figured I wasn’t going to need much makeup, and I could buy new clothes once I got to tech school or my first duty station, especially since I was excited about moving. Who knew what the weather would be once I settled down. Another part of getting ready to leave was getting my husband ready to take over financial responsibilities for a few months.

“You are so brave, being able to pick up and leave. I couldn’t do that,” said my younger sister, Serena. “I don’t think I could handle people yelling at me all the time.”

Once the November jobs posted I submitted my preferred jobs to my recruiter and anxiously waited. Not only did I get my top pick, I would also leave Jan. 10, 2017. It was perfect, as I still got to spend the holidays with family.

Something that I wasn’t looking forward to was the uncertainty of whether or not I would be allowed to have coffee in basic training. I am a huge coffee fan. To set myself up for success, I started to wean myself off of it about a month before I was scheduled to leave. I also cut my hair, having to deal with a strict, slicked back bun every day wasn’t for me. The less I had to distract me from training, the better.

Since I was excitedly awaiting my fly-out date, the time went by slower than a kid anticipating Christmas. To help pass the time, I would read any blogs, articles or other information I could find about training and my new job. Last minute paperwork, getting my husband set up and saying goodbye to coworkers and family, all happened quickly. The time to fly out was nearly here.

I had many people who were surprised I wasn’t more nervous or second guessing my decision. My closest friends and family knew me, though. They knew once I set my mind to something, I don’t change it easily. I’m stubborn like that.

I knew this was the best decision for myself and my family. I knew this was going to be the environment I needed. Filled with discipline, like-minded individuals, and the opportunity to make as much of my career as I wanted.

Almost before I realized it, the day came when my husband had to drive me 80 miles to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, Oregon.

On the morning we left, we experienced the worst snow storm I had ever seen. Even taking it painfully slow, we broke multiple chains on the drive. The snow was thick, and flurrying all around. I remember there were times you couldn’t see five feet of the road in front of you. I was thankful we didn’t crash in the five hours it took to get there.

That night at the hotel, booked by the MEPS, would be the first spent without my husband in the two years we have been married. MEPS pays for the hotel and they pair individuals with roommates so no family is allowed to stay overnight with you. I wondered if I would be able to sleep, not having my husband by my side, worrying about his drive back the next day, and having a stranger as a roommate. Surprisingly, despite all of this, I was able to sleep that night.

I haven’t traveled much, so the thought of flying without anyone I knew and having a layover was nerve racking.

The next day I was so thankful that my husband was able to see me off, he was the only member of my family able to make it. Even though most of the people I knew were not able to see me off, I knew I had a whole family and group of friends promising to write me, and support me in this new experience.

With the support of loved ones and the knowledge that my husband would always be there to encourage me in the back of my mind, I gave him one last hug and boarded the plane. As I looked back before stepping into the plane, I could see my husband taking one last picture. With only the luggage for the trip on my back and thoughts of what may be awaiting me, I gave a little wave and set off on the first steps that would propel me towards a life-changing journey.