The Air Force - A Great Way of Life

Col. Thomas L. Schmidt, 17th Training Wing Vice Commander (Courtesy photo)

Col. Thomas L. Schmidt, 17th Training Wing Vice Commander (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- -- Col. Thomas Schmidt, 17th Training Wing Vice Commander, has served in the Air Force since 1992.

He has served stateside and overseas in various Air Traffic Control, Airfield Operations and Airspace Management assignments across four Major Commands, including tours in California, Oklahoma, Germany and New Mexico, as well as deployments to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Prior to his current assignment, he spent five of the previous six years in Air Education and Training Command, where he served as commander of a basic military training squadron and deputy division chief on the Headquarters Air Education and Training Command staff.

When asked to reflect back over his 20 years of service and convey a simple theme or message to young Airmen in the Air Force today, it didn't take long for the colonel to respond.
"I've witnessed many changes--some good and some less so--in our Air Force since 1992, but one thing has remained firmly consistent in my mind--that the Air Force is, always has been, and will continue to remain a 'Great Way of Life,'" he said.

As the son of a senior master sergeant who served in the Air Force for over a quarter of a century, the colonel has experienced the Air Force both as a dependent son and now as an active duty officer.

"In the mid-1980s, I remember receiving a simple plastic key chain from someone after attending an on-base event," the colonel said. "The text on the key chain read, in simple red, white, and blue colors: Air Force...A Great Way of Life. As a teenager at the time, I didn't think much of it, but as I reflect back nearly three decades and many Air Force slogans later, there's been perhaps no better Air Force slogan that I've heard or seen of since. By the way, I still own that key chain to this day."

When questioned why he feels so strongly about the Air Force and the opportunities it offers to our Airmen and their families, the colonel elaborated more broadly.

"What we Airmen do in the Air Force on a daily basis is not merely a job or occupation where we clock in at the beginning of the day and clock out at the close of business--it's a way of life," he said. "It's a way of life that permeates every phase of an Airman's existence--on duty and off duty, professionally and personally. Specifically, the Air Force equips our Airmen with life-long technical and non-technical skills, promotes and affords nearly unrivaled educational and travel opportunities, brings out an uncommon sense of camaraderie and togetherness, fosters a sense of caring, family and community and opens the door to life-long friendships around the globe, all the while we serve in the defense of our great nation. If that's not a great way of life, then I don't know what is."

As an Air Traffic Control and Airfield Operations officer, he has seen a steady number of Airmen during the years who make the decision to leave the Air Force way of life in pursuit of higher salaries in well-paying air traffic control jobs outside the military.

"I have lost count of the number of separated Airmen over the years I've run into who have lamented their decision to leave the Air Force. Despite making a decent salary in the civil sector, they miss the challenge, the camaraderie, the esprit de corps, the team work, the sense of family, the travel, and, most importantly, the opportunity to serve something larger than themselves."

Having served five of the last six years within AETC before coming to Goodfellow, the Col. Schmidt has had an opportunity to carry and communicate this message to Airmen at three different AETC bases.

"During my two years as a basic military training squadron commander, a number of the more than 10,000 entry-level Airmen that my unit trained and graduated had some prior military background in their family, but most were unfamiliar with the Air Force beyond what they may have seen on TV or a recruiting poster," he said. " Based upon my experiences, I felt it was critical for them to understand and get a better appreciation of the full depth and breadth of the Air Force they were training to enter. And I will continue to carry this message forward to the many young Airmen at Goodfellow who are currently training and preparing to become Firefighting and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance warriors for our Air Force."