I served in the United States Air Force for four years. I had just graduated high school and I was young, naïve, ill-prepared for a life on my own…BUT, I was courageous enough to take a leap because I wanted to travel, explore, and have adventures I would never get to experience in Ohio. I am thankful that the risk-taker in me chose this route. My military experience was a life changing period for me, starting me down the road of self-awareness to adulthood.
I arrived at basic training in SHOCK; I grew up in 6 short weeks. I was thrown into Desert Storm as a fresh faced Air Force Security Specialist guarding nuclear weapons, F16, B2 Stealth, and providing air base security.
I learned many lessons during my time living the “military way” – it’s a code that any service member lives by, and the experience is something only another Veteran can appreciate and truly understand. That said, the Top 5 Lessons I learned while serving my nation are simple and I still use them today in my civilian life:
- Self-Awareness and Self-Reliance: I was never aware of how my own actions affected others until becoming a part of a squadron of soldiers. There is no place for selfishness. You must be aware of strengths and weaknesses and communicate with others to build a strong team. You also must be independent. You have to take care of yourself and be willing to problem solve, think outside the box, and be creative to get a job done. No one will rely on YOU if you cannot rely on yourself. There is no room for self-doubt or self-pity – you must be strong and deal with situations swiftly and directly to be an example for others.
- Team Player: Once you have built up an independent and reliable self, you need to be flexible. I quickly learned how to be a team player, offering my strengths. My team would support my weaknesses and we always strived to be solid as a whole. Communication is essential when working as a team. I emphasize with my children that leading without listening will create a situation full of dictators and missed opportunities; throughout history, good leaders worked with others and knew how and when to compromise and share, to work towards success as a whole.
- Integrity: Reputation is taken seriously in the military. To have a solid reputation, you must have integrity: admit your wrong doings, be honest, stay true to yourself. Strive to live within a moral and ethical code you define for yourself, and when you stray from those, make amends and promise yourself to be a better person. I stress with my children that it is okay to make mistakes. Sometimes we act before thinking. A person with integrity will own their mistakes and make amends with the ones they hurt.
- Respect: Some friends joke that I am too structured, a Tiger Mom, and push my children. I admit I do fall into those categories at times, but it all comes back to respecting yourself and others. I teach my children to be respectful of others’ time and energy, to respect themselves, and not to “quit”, “give up”, or “give in.” Defeat happens after you have respected and exhausted all your intellectual, physical and emotional limitations; in that case, you do NOT fail because you tried your best! Authorities and elders have life experiences that have shaped them into role models, and they deserve your respect. Respect your body, soul, and spirit and feed them with inspirational and positive life lessons.
- Service: When I was serving, I had strict boundaries placed on everything from curfews to what I could wear, who I could fraternize with, and when I could eat, sleep, and work. Freedom was not taken for granted when I had a day pass to enjoy! I gave my time and energy for the greater protection of our nation, but I did not feel a sense of “service” while I was enlisted; it is the thanks, notes, pictures drawn, the shaking of hands, a hug, and acknowledgements that I receive from family, friends and strangers on Veterans Day that makes me acknowledge the service I provided. I am humbled and proud.
My career was over in 4 short years, but the privilege to be called a Veteran is a sweet reward for my service. I pass on my acknowledgement and heartfelt thanks to the men and women who have and do serve in today’s branches of the military of the United States of America.
Thank you for the sacrifice, service, and commitment to safeguarding our freedoms and protecting our nation. I hope everyone takes a moment on Veterans Day to thank someone who has served this country.
I personally would like to acknowledge my Great Uncle Garland VanAtta (died in Pearl Harbor/Navy), Great Uncle Silas Bailey (Korean War/Army), Uncle Fred Pugh (Vietnam War/Distinguished Service Medal award recipient/Army), cousin Chris Tabor (Desert Storm/Navy), and cousin Matt Eley (actively serving/Army).