As a 22 year SNCO in the USAF I have been asked the question “Why do you continue to serve” many times. It is usually posed as: Why did I join and why do I continue to serve past 20 years? Simply put it is because I freaking LOVE this career. There is nothing better to do and I cannot imagine doing anything else today. I honestly do not want to do anything else because I get such great pleasure from caring for the Airmen that defend this Nation every day. I know no greater joy than having an Airman succeed when they thought they could not, just because I was able to remove a barrier for them. But it was not always like that.
My Air Force career began like most Airmen. My life did not have a path or plan. I just needed to go find a way to get a paycheck and a skill. As my career advanced, so did my responsibilities, as a husband and father which led me to reenlist. As I stayed longer, I was maturing and slowly coming to realize that serving in the Air Force was more than just paying the bills but was a possible career for me. I did not notice that the Air Force was becoming as much a part of me as I was a part of it.
Eventually I was given the honor and privilege of becoming a Squadron Superintendent. It was a turning point for me. I had always sworn ‘I would do my 20 years and RUN away’ or ‘this was just a job’ or ‘this was a way to care for my family’ or ‘this was just something I was doing until I got a real job.’ However, when that Lt Col picked me to be his Superintendent something happened. My world changed forever and I am so thankful. It was not only a “significant emotional event” as he would say. This was THE significant emotional (and THE transformational) event of my career.
Those two years as the Superintendent taught me so much and finally shaped why I continue to serve today (8 years later). It taught me that my calling was not to make widgets as much as I thought it was. It was to make the lives better for those who make the widgets. Without them we cannot fly, fight or win. My job was to remove the barriers for those who do greatness. It was to stand beside the Commander and help them make the hardest decisions so that the Airmen could just go do greatness.
I will tell you the first time you make an Airman’s life better, all the meetings and taskers and eSSS’ are worth it. With each Airman who got home to their family quicker or received the assignment they needed or the cross training they wanted, it keeps getting better. As each year has progressed I have loved this job more and more every day. I cannot believe they pay me to do this and for the Airmen is why I continue to serve, so they can just do the job they love.
Recently I was reminded how similar my story is to many other Airmen. When talking to a fellow SNCO about his Air Force Anniversary he wrote this to me:
“I enlisted because I didn’t have direction. I wasn’t succeeding in college (a 0.8 GPA!), lacked focus, and was feeling bummed out that my entitled dreams weren’t magically happening. Broke, I signed up with a ‘why not’ attitude, rather than a call to join the profession of arms.
My basic training instructor asked why I enlisted. I replied, “I don’t have anything better to do this week…” and I was telling the truth. That NCO thought I was being a smart-ass trainee, I did a lot of push-ups that day.
15 years later, I still feel that way, but for a different reason. The Air Force is made up of amazing people working to achieve goals bigger than themselves. We admittedly have challenges, but I believe that my service’s heart is in the right place. Our mission makes this country a bit safer, and we can count on each other as part of that team.
Point is, I still can’t think of ANYTHING better to do than this.”
Jon joined for his own reasons, but his reason to continue to serve has evolved just like mine. He sees the greater things that all Airmen can do, which is to serve each other. He has grown as a SNCO who I am so proud to have in my Squadron caring for our Airmen. I have watched him take care of Airmen and place them in jobs where they have done more than they knew they could. They received recognition and rewards that he ensured they received. Many NCOs have come up to me saying what an impact he has had on them because of his leadership. He is just one example of the many great SNCOs serving today that have realized the value and rewards of serving their Airmen and the Air Force.
We all may join for our own reasons, but when you get to the root of why any good SNCO continues to serve, they do it for their Airmen. The Airmen that every day put their faith in their SNCO to take care of them. The Airmen that know we will make their lives better, ensure they are prepared to defend the nation, held to standards and provided the rewards they earn for excellence not participation. Great SNCOs continue to serve to provide their Airmen with an example of the opportunities that await them when they are the SNCOs. I never could have imagined in December of 1994 that the plane ride out of Los Angeles would have brought me here today. I am so grateful that I have the honor and privilege of serving Airmen, now why are you serving today?