Unlike many of our young troops today, I entered with no post high school education, not to mention I was married with a son on the way. I had enlistment goals of learning a trade and technical training to include a college education. A college degree would be a milestone in my family. Nobody before me had achieved this accomplishment.
The job I entered into was an Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist or better known as a “load toad” or “weapons loader.” In the beginning, life was very demanding. I was trying to juggle a new family, adjust to a strange new environment (the military), and those dreaded Career Development Courses. The thought of off-duty education was the last thing on my mind not to mention off-duty education in conjunction with CDCs was not permitted. As time went on, the job became more demanding. This was during the time of September 11th, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Noble Eagle. I was constantly TDY and working long hours. Four years went by in a heartbeat and I haven’t taken a single step towards a college education.
It wasn’t until 2004 when I was selected to work at the elite Weapons Standardization Section. Still a demanding job, but the duty hours were a little more predictable and stable. At this point, this is when Staff Sgt. Dale King became my immediate supervisor. One of the best supervisors I have had in my 13-year career. He did what was expected of our NCOs; he was my mentor, leader and motivator. During our performance feedback session he told me then what was expected of me, he stressed concern for my future growth and personal achievement. This was the first time someone sat me down and discussed off-duty education. It wasn’t about building up fodder to win quarterly or annual awards, it was about me. To this day I still remember the words he used, “Don’t wait, “take advantage of your time now.” Anybody who has been in the Air Force for a good amount of years knows he was speaking wisdom. Throughout the years, with increased rank and responsibility, comes a dramatic decrease in personal time, especially when working at a fighter aircraft base on the flight-line. King took the time to inform me where to go, how to enroll and even what degree to pursue. As a staff sergeant, I enrolled in my first class through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Extended Campus. Motivation and inspiration wasn’t hard to get, Staff Sgt. King took classes with me. So my educational journey began. It wasn’t long until I was knocking classes out and along the way there was King asking, “What class is next?” After every term, he always came back to me and told me what was coming up and asking continuously, “Have you registered?” The motivation was so profound, at one point during that time, nearly all personnel in the section were pursuing off-duty education.
When I PCS’d in 2006 to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, I was only one class away from my Community College of the Air Force degree and about six from my bachelors degree. Again, with the transition to a new base, a new home, and new people, my educational motivation decreased. I was very fortunate to have a fellow peer from my last duty station PCS to Elmendorf with me. He had motivation to finish his bachelors degree and go to Officer Training School. In some sort of way he was my “competition” to finish my degree first. Even though he ultimately finished before me, he kept me inspired to finish mine.
Officer Training School was the last thought on my mind during my eight years as an enlisted man, but I always had the determination to lead and guide. I wanted to be involved in decision making processes and make stuff happen. Looking back at the situation, there were many variables which ultimately inspired me to submit a package to OTS, but without the educational foundation, it couldn’t happen. In 2007 I was selected for OTS, completed my bachelors (Suma Cum Lade) and my CCAF degree (Pitsenbarger award).
Despite having completed my educational goals and now a United States Air Force Officer, the educational journey surely didn’t end. Once again with strong supervision and mentorship I was again pushed to pursue my higher level education in the form of a masters degree. With the strong foundation implanted by Staff Sgt. King years back, I didn’t need much inspiration to pursue a masters. Despite the demanding duty as an officer, I did what I had to do and worked with the little time I had and got it done. There are times I had to take pauses for Professional Military Education, TDYs and training, but I picked right up. All that remains is a thesis that I’m working on now.
Looking back at my educational journey and my Air Force career, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the strong mentors, supervisors and peers. If there wasn’t a Staff Sgt. King in my journey (now Senior Master Sgt. King), I can’t imagine where I would be today. Would I have a bachelorís degree? A CCAF degree? Sometimes all it takes is some involvement in your troop’s lives. It could make a significant difference.