The best things about the Air Force

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- I joined the Air Force some 29-plus years ago. Little did I know I would be in 30 years and retire as a chief master sergeant. Wow, what a journey it's been. 

I grew up in the country about seven miles from Jacksonville, Ark., and had little knowledge about the Air Force or the military. For those of you who don't know, Jacksonville is  home to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. 

I can remember going to town and watching the planes as they flew over, and listening for sonic booms. That was the extent of my Air Force background and knowledge. After I'd been in the Air Force about a year, I learned that C-130s don't make sonic booms. Oh, well. 

So why did I come into the military? Gainful employment was hard to come by in rural Arkansas. I thought a steady job for a few years and the training I'd get would open up the world for me. 

How did I pick my job? Location, location, location. Integrated avionics courses were taught in Denver, Co. I always wanted to see Colorado. 

My first base was Eglin AFB, Fla. My response was, "Where in the heck is Eglin? Wow, I always wanted to go to Florida!" 

I will never forget the first time I saw the ocean. Of course it was the Gulf of Mexico, but to someone who grew up in Arkansas, it was the ocean. I was just going to do a hitch and then go my own way. Thirty years later, I'm now ready to go my own way. 

Some of the best things I'll remember about the Air Force: 

1. I always felt like I was a part of something bigger, making a difference. It's like being one small piece to a 5,000-piece puzzle. They all have to come together for the mission to be a success.

2. Camaraderie in the military is unrivaled in the civilian sector. Where else could you get a bunch of your co-workers to come over on a Saturday in the pouring rain or 20-degree weather to help you move? And all it cost you is a pizza and a couple beers. How about if your car breaks down and all you have to do is pick up the phone and someone gives you a ride or a jump start? (thanks Al, Mel and Mig; I promise I'm getting my truck fixed.)

3. I have been many places and experienced many different cultures. I've camped in the Rockies. I swum in the ocean (ok, ok, it was the Gulf of Mexico). I've built snowmen in Alaska. I have driven in Saudi (boy that was scary.) I've climbed Mount Fuji. I was bored to tears in Wichita Falls, Texas. (Ok, so it wasn't all a bed of roses.) These are just a few things I will remember, things I'd never have done had I not joined the Air Force.

4. I will never forget the thousands of fantastic people that I met and worked with (and all with a short-joke or two). People who cover every spectrum of society, and people whose backgrounds vary in every way imaginable. However, they manage to pull together and work long hours, deploy on short notice and continuously step up to any task and get the mission done. Our people and their "won't fail on my watch" attitude is truly what makes this a great Air Force. 

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve my country and to be a part of this great team. I wish each and every one of you the very best throughout your Air Force career and beyond. 

I hope you each experience the success and joy the Air Force has brought me. Remember that you are each very important. You do a job that few understand, and even fewer appreciate, but, it's a job that must be done. 

I know when I retire I will sleep well at night knowing you are defending our great nation.