Oh, the places you’ll go

Everyone knows Dr. Seuss’ famous phrase. It’s filled with hope and excitement, possibility and wonder.

Now let’s apply it to everyday life and the Air Force.

Yes, there are some amazing locations and opportunities, but there’s also deployments and temporary duty taskings, even some stateside assignments or training courses. Perhaps you’re currently in a career field in which you have no interest. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Of course it does, it sounds familiar to every one of us. Active duty, dependents and civilians, we’ve all been there at some point. There is the distinct possibility Dr. Suess might be mocking your future “adventures” in your eyes. Just remember, all these “adventures” are not just about “right now,” they are about laying the groundwork and preparing for your future.

To those ends, there are two opportunity tracks. The first is the track you want and have requested and the second is the track you’ve been given.

It’s easy to get excited about the first track. I was lucky enough to get tracked to Army Airborne training early in my career, as a ROTC Cadet of all things, and found out that I loved it. Everything about it: the adrenaline, the comradery, the pain, the terrible hours–everything. So instead of just enjoying it and checking out at the end of the day, I studied and stayed home while the guys went out.

Now I’m a Jump Master and wear the Army Master Parachutist Badge. Along the way, I earned the Marine Corps Parachutist Wings as well as the Army Air Assault badge. Since then I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’m working with either Soldiers or Marines. When walking into a joint-service environment, those badges immediately garner respect; it’s instant credibility. This allows me to get what I need for my people and the Air Force. This opportunity made me a better Airman and leader. Was it always fun getting there? Day to day, no; but the whole process? DEFINITELY!

It can be difficult to see the opportunities available when you’re unhappy. I’ve had plenty of “pay-it-back” moments as well. As a guy who would much rather be turning wrenches outside all day, I was routed to the Pentagon. My job brought me no real enjoyment or satisfaction, so I looked outward.

I found an automotive repair certification program at a local community college and managed to attend night classes. I was a desk jockey during the day, but three nights a week I was learning automotive welding and paint preparation. I had always been interested in this but I never had the opportunity to do it. Best yet, it went towards my retirement plan of running my own automotive shop.

Of course, just as I was getting happy with my work/life balance, the Air Force came back to me. They had seen the smile and said, “Not on my watch! No one smiles at the Pentagon!” They switched my assignment. Not just the Pentagon, no; now I would work with Congress as the Air Force Liaison for military contracting projects and budgets. I laughed and said, “You’ve got the wrong guy! I wouldn’t last a day!” The powers that be responded, “Well, change your attitude and your language and go buy some suits, because this is your job now.”

I won’t lie, I tried to volunteer for another deployment. My wife was supportive, “You’re gonna get fired. Let’s just get you out of the country,” she told me. However, and it hurts me a little to say this, the liaison position turned out to be a transformative, educational and (sometimes) enjoyable gig. Do I want to go back and do it again? Not really. Am I glad I did it, and am I a better Airman and leader because of it? YES.

As you’re going through your day, take a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture:

Basic training–want to do it again? I’d guess not. But do you have some great stories and great friends? YES (hopefully).

Advanced training courses–was there studying and time away from your family and friends and was it boring or painful at times? I’d bet. Was it ultimately worth it and did it provide a better lifestyle for you and your family? YES (again, hopefully).

Are you a better Airman and leader because of the additional knowledge and skills from both training environments? Absolutely!

Let me leave you with a final story. One Friday night in college, I was sitting in the research library studying and my friends kept calling, trying to get me to join them out in town. I was frustrated that I was being crushed by an engineering degree while my history major friends would end up with the same rank upon commissioning. As I sat there stewing, I could hear my father, never one to tolerate self-indulgence, saying, “You pay the piper now or you pay the piper later, but either way you have to pay the piper, and it’s always easier now.”

It’s true. Set yourself up for success now. Do it while the Air Force is willing to provide tuition assistance for college classes. Do it while they will pay for your upgrade training and even allow you to cross-train to in-demand career fields which typically have high private-sector recruitment.

Seek out the positions of responsibility and demonstrate your leadership. You will find you are suddenly eligible for myriad opportunities not available before. Seize them and run! Spin your cyber security liaison additional duty into something that serves your goals; figure out how you can turn that into a certificate or college credits. Spend your TDY evenings cranking out your online classes so you don’t spend time on it while you’re home with family and friends. Talk to some of the folks in those in-demand career fields during your next deployment and you might find something interesting. Search for the opportunities, don’t wait for them. Better yourself, as a person and Airman.

Whatever you do, do it well. You won’t be an Airman forever. Take advantage of the opportunities–desired or directed–and pad your resume with all sorts of skills so you’re ready for anything when you depart the Big Blue. Chase adventure, live life, and grow experiences both good and bad. It will serve you well, it will serve the Air Force well. Most importantly you’ll look back with pride and a smile at where you’ve been and where you’re going. Whether you served for three or 30 years, you are guaranteed to take memories with you, plus a few good stories.

Isn’t that what it’s really all about?

More Stories From This Author