Happy Birthday, USAF. You Saved My Life.

Updated: Sep 19

Today is the United States Air Force's 75th birthday. Established on September 18, 1947, the USAF was separated from the US Army Air Corps following World War II. Now its own branch of the United States military, the USAF has faithfully served the nation through its various fields and missions. It is a branch that is more than fighter jets and bombers. The USAF also delivers cargo, assists in humanitarian efforts, has a presence in space, has its special forces units, and is a global leader in technology.


The Air Force also saved my life, and no doubt it saved the lives of others like me.



 

In the late spring of 1993, I woke one morning feeling I needed to change my life. From the time I had graduated until that morning, my life had become a blur of discontent. I was jobless, and I was essentially squatting at a friend's grandmother's place. I had no ambition, no direction, and no purpose. I was smoking half-smoked cigarettes from an ashtray, staying up late at night playing gin rummy, and living on a microwave-baked potato per day.


I was lost.


That morning, I cleaned myself up and made the most difficult phone call in my life. I called my mother to ask her for a ride. When she answered the phone, I said hello.


[a long pause] "What do you want," she asked.


I answered, "I want to know if you can give me a ride to Fort Worth."


Another long pause. "What for?"


"I need a ride to the Air Force recruiter."


A third long pause. I could hear birds in the background. My mother asked, "why do you need a ride there?"


At this point, I took a deep breath and unburdened myself. I answered, "because I'm lost, and I can't do anything about it here. I need to get away, grow up, and find myself. I can't live like this any longer."


She asked me if I was serious, and I assured her I was 100% serious. I could practically hear her head shaking "okay," as she told me she asked me for the address where I was staying. After giving it to her, she told me she would be where I was in 20 minutes.


She pulled up precisely 20 minutes later.


We sat down with a recruiter and covered everything that needed to be done before I could ship out. The process took a few weeks, but eventually, I went to the Dallas Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), completed my initial physical, and made my career selection. I was given a start date six weeks later, where I returned to MEPS for a final physical, took my Oath of Enlistment, and signed my contract. I was put up in a hotel for the night with several other young adults like myself, each preparing to leave for their respective branches of service.


The following morning, I boarded a flight from Dallas Love Field to San Antonio. My future was waiting for me in the form of several angry men yelling at everyone assigned to my Basic Training squadron, the 3450th, nicknamed "Mother Russia" because it was the most intense training squadron in all of Lackland.


Their uniforms are better than the ones my flight had.

 

I started USAF Boot Camp on July 19, 1993, which lasted for six weeks. After BMT, I went to technical school to study electronic fundamentals and avionic sensor systems at Lowry AFB, outside Denver, CO, for seven months. After graduating from Tech School, my first duty assignment was Osan AB in South Korea. After a year, I returned stateside and finished at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, with a three-month temporary assignment at Prince Sultan AB in Saudi Arabia. I could tell all sorts of stories about my experiences, but those are to come later in a collection of short essays.


If it weren't for the encouragement of two friends back during that time, which I call my "dark ages, I'm not sure where I would be in life or if I would even be alive. My friends, Jeremy and Aaron, got me to start thinking about enlisting in the Air Force long before I made the final decision. They encouraged me and were my biggest supporters when I decided to enlist. During those six weeks, before I left, they looked after me, even though my mother and stepfather allowed me to come home. Wherever I went, they went. They were my guardian angels and ensured I was protected, especially from myself, and was delivered to Lackland AFB securely.


The USAF took it from there and allowed me to accomplish the things needed to live a good life. I was able to find ambition, direction, and purpose. I grew up from a wayward young adult to a responsible adult. I excelled during my short career, which catapulted me forward into the man I am today. Great peers and supervisors, like John B, Kelly D, John A, Chris J, Tom S, and Shannon H, mentored me. There were also influential civilians, like Nancy A, Jina B, John Al, Mod H, and Sylvia J. They were the avatars of a military branch that took me in, broke me down to my foundation, and built me into the best version of myself.


Thank you, United States Air Force. I owe my life to you.



 

There have been times since I left the service when life went sideways for me. I'm human, and things happen. No matter what, when things seem to feel at their worst, I hear that familiar Air Force voice in my head, encouraging me to get my shit together. I somehow find a way to pick myself up, dust myself off, and stand tall. When I do, I can correct whatever is going wrong and straighten it out. I may have left the Air Force 25 years ago, but the Air Force never left me.


If I ever need extra motivation, I make myself a microwave-baked potato as a reminder.



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