Military perception becomes reality

WHITEMAN AFB, MO -- It wasn't until I was a senior in college that I considered a career in the Air Force. 

One of the many benefits pointed out to me was the possibility of a 20 year retirement. 

The idea was appealing, but at that point in my life, retirement was an abstract concept. Twenty years seemed like forever! 

Now, just two months short of retirement eligibility, I wonder where the time has gone. 

Was my time well spent? Was it worth it? Would I do it again? 

Without a doubt, military service requires sacrifice. It requires total dedication, unquestioning loyalty - this often means foregoing the pursuit of personal interests. 

As active duty members, more is demanded of us than our counterparts in the civilian sector, particularly when considering levels of compensation. 

We are held to a much higher standard in all aspects of our conduct, both on and off duty, and our personal lives are more closely scrutinized. 

We move around the country and overseas to many different locations, often times with short notice, and usually with little or no input. 

Most significant of all, and more a possibility now than at any other time during my career, we are asked to deploy to foreign countries where too many make the ultimate and final sacrifice. 

But rather than write of the challenges of military service, I would like to acknowledge what military service has given me. 

I suppose, though, that the challenging aspects of serving are often what bring the most growth, development and benefit. 

The challenge becomes the gift.One gift of military service is the variety of places we experience and the people we interact with. At officer training School, each trainee was asked to complete a "dream sheet" indicating our preference of first duty location. 

With thoughts of traveling abroad, I listed almost every overseas base there was. 

At that time, OTS was located in San Antonio, Texas. So where did I get assigned? San Antonio, Texas. I was more than a little disappointed. 

After three months of San Antonio summer heat and humidity, I was more than ready to leave - not to mention the fact that I really wanted to go overseas. 

On "Security Hill" at Kelly Air Force Base, I completed my first assignment in a sensitive compartmentalized information facility otherwise known as a SCIF. 

That in and of itself was an interesting experience. For two or three months while waiting for my security credentials, I couldn't go anywhere alone within the building where I worked - not even to the bathroom! 

Location wise, San Antonio turned out to be a great placeto live, and from that first assignment until now we have felt that way about every place we've been (to include Oklahoma and Missouri!). 

One of the main things that makes a place nice to live and work in is people. 

My frequent moves have taken me to many different locations where local people have been influenced by their own unique surroundings. Others in military service who move around with me also come from very diverse backgrounds. 

My view of the world has been enlarged through my experiences with others. I have learned much from interacting with my fellow service members (active duty and civilians), especially my supervisors. 

I have never had one that I couldn't get along with or didn't like (at least in some way). Certainly I have never had a supervisor I couldn't learn from - I've learned what to do and what not to do. 

Negative interactions teach us just as much as the positive ones - how many of you have ever said to yourself "I will never do that to anyone that works for me?" 

I once had a supervisor who would continue working on his computer while I was talking to him. Even though he may have just been very good at multi-tasking (and certainly very busy), it seemed as though what I had to say wasn't important to him. 

I avoided going to his office. Although this was almost 10 years ago, I still remember it and make a conscious effort to give my undivided attention to whoever I meet with. 

On the other side, I had an experience that I also will never forget, but this one positive. There I was, a squadron commander at my last base. 

From out of nowhere, I'm hit with a serious family emergency that I needed to take immediate leave for. My boss was scheduled to go TDY within a few days and I was supposed to be acting group commander. 

Although it meant personal sacrifice on his part, he let me go - he didn't hesitate, he didn't even have to think about it. He just told me to go. 

Did I have to go on leave, did he have to let me? The answer is no. But his support and willingness to sacrifice for me and my family made a huge life-long difference in the life of a teenager. 

Another gift of military service is the rich health care benefit we have. Being able to utilize that benefit for myself and family has been a tremendous advantage. 

For example, my second child was born six weeks premature at Wilford Hall Medical Center - he stayed in neonatal intensive care for four weeks. 

So what was my bill for an emergency? 

Cesarean section and a 30-day hospital stay? 

Less than $100 - and under today's benefit structure I wouldn't have paid anything! 

Many civilian families under similar circumstances would need years to pay off the bill for that kind of care. In some ways, it's hard to quantify the value of our health care benefit. 

You can compare premiums and co-pays, but looking into the future you can't be certain how much health care you'll need. One day you're fine, the next you're being told you have some terrible disease. 

I don't mean to sound gloomy. I guess what I'm really trying to say is don't underestimate the value of what we have, even if you are young and healthy. 

Related to health care, physical fitness is a big emphasis of our military lifestyle. 

Military service has been a motivational factor for me in achieving and maintaining a level of physical fitness that I probably wouldn't have with a job in the civilian sector. 

As much as I might occasionally complain about some of the administrivia associated with the new fitness program, I have benefited from it enormously and it will continue to pay dividends far into the future. 

Being physically fit and having health concerns addressed is an important factor in the quality of my life. 

People, places, health care and fitness, just a few of the many gifts of military service. Reasons to join, reasons to stay. 

Twenty years now gone by - would I do it again? Absolutely.