By 2nd Lt. Joseph Montero, 14th Student Squadron
/ Published December 14, 2018
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- I was on top of the world, and I felt like nothing could possibly bring me down. I had just recently graduated from the University of Central Florida, had a pilot slot secured, and was moving to my first training base to begin my career in the world's greatest Air Force.
Little did I know my whole life was about to change and wouldn’t be taking off (quite literally) how I thought it would. One of the biggest lessons I would come to understand is the importance of the Team BLAZE mission and what it truly means.
In-processing was a breeze, the days seemed to roll by with ease and consisted of me driving around the base aimlessly trying to find out if "that is the right building” or if "this is the right person that I need to speak to."
I met new friends along the way and even ran into old buddies from college, but I also ran into the biggest obstacle that I have ever had in my life. A medical waiver.
I went through the medical section of my in-processing checklist, one thing led to another and I was soon sitting face-to-face with one of the flight docs as he explained to me that I needed a waiver to get cleared to begin pilot training … everything came to a screeching halt.
I had no more deadlines for training to set up, my training slot was filled due to the fact that I was removed, and I was left wondering what this all meant, and why it was happening to me. What did I do wrong?
Sure, things weren't going so great at Columbus Air Force Base right off the bat, but I did have one thing going for me, my casual job.
This opportunity gave me some consistency and routine in my daily life. It helped get my mind off of the medical waiver process too. I was enjoying the work that I was doing, and I especially liked the people that I was surrounded by.
Now I know what you may be thinking, “this lieutenant actually liked his transition job?" The truth is that I was fortunate enough to have a day-to-day position in, what I believe is the best squadron on the whole base, the 14th Communications Squadron.
Maj. Eddy Gutierrez, 14th CS commander, took me under his wing and quickly began to challenge me.
He gave me tasks that I had no idea what to do with, and I'm sure he knew that, because I had zero cyber or communications background. He trusted me enough though to handle these tasks without ever questioning me if I felt overwhelmed or not.
There were times where I was, but there was no way that I would say no to a task that he gave me because I knew it was a test. A test to see if I could adapt to the situation, all while learning new things from on the job experiences.
On a daily basis I would work with the Airmen in the Squadron and get to know their story. I would ask them why they decided to join the Air Force, what this means to them, and what their strengths are.
I wanted to know every individual on a personal level as well because it’s the way I am. I like getting to know people, it can help with the work environment, and if my previous work experience in management had taught me anything it was knowing your people and knowing what motivates them can be crucial.
Whenever there was a slow moment in the shop, I would ask what we could be doing with our time, or if there were any tickets that we could go out on. I was motivated to get up and get out to do work with the team.
I quickly learned about the communications realm and was tasked with an exciting, innovative project for not only the squadron, but for the base and how pilot training would be instructed.
I was to assist with procuring Mobile Training Devices for student pilots each programmed with necessary pubs, coursework, and some programs they need to access. The fact you could pause your work, relocate, and pick up where you left off is also a huge benefit of having these Mobile Training Devices.
I was to help with bringing pilot training into the future and as hectic as the work got at times knowing my impact was going to have a positive lasting effect would make the effort worth it.
I never really thought about how many different teams and squadrons have an impact on the training of student pilots. To me, it was pretty easy to just think that the instructor pilots do all the work and get all the glory, but I was very wrong in my assumptions.
Seeing things from the outside, as a part of the communications squadron, showed me just how much effort goes into training the next generation of student pilots, and I have a new found respect for every person and every team on this base. Without the spear itself, there can be no tip.
In the squadron I was also tasked with escorting construction workers as they renovated the Network Control Center. I could have easily sat there bored every day and minded my own business, but I would ask questions about their work and get to know them.
It definitely made time pass a lot faster, but more importantly it also made our days more enjoyable, knowing that we would see each other tomorrow and share more stories.
One of the more rewarding moments was when I wrote letters to the family members of those in the Squadron that were nominated for awards.
I thought nothing of it and just figured that they would receive the letter in the mail, read it, and put it on the kitchen counter like it didn't mean much.
When Major Gutierrez called me into his office to tell me that two different families reached back out to him to show their gratitude for nominating their child for these awards, it was amazing.
One mother was brought to tears and didn't know how to express her thanks.
It's the little things, like taking the extra time to just notify families of how well their Airmen are doing, that makes everything worth it.
I was fortunate enough to even give back to the community of Columbus.
Myself, as well as about ten members of the squadron, were able to help with Habitat for Humanity to tear down an older home in downtown Columbus, this way it could be reconstructed for a family in need of a home.
Not only was the event a lot of fun to just destroy things, but it was one of the first times that I was able to interact and hang out with people from the office outside of work.
I was able to also meet some great individuals who volunteer their time almost every Saturday to help out with Habitat for Humanity. Without the communications Squadron, I would not have known how to connect to the community, and I honestly don't think that I would have been motivated enough to do it on my own.
What it all means
6 long months. That is how long I was waiting to hear back about my waiver, but most importantly, that is how long I was fortunate enough to work with the Communication Squadron.
At times the stress of not knowing my future would be overwhelming, but then I would take a step back and think about how great things were in the moment.
I finally got my phone call and the news wasn't exactly what I was hoping to hear, but at the same time it was still a relief. I was officially medically disqualified from continuing with UPT, but this wasn't going to stop me from pursuing my Air Force career.
I'm going to move on and find a career that will allow me to Cultivate Airmen, Create Pilots, and Connect. Whether that career is Cyber, Intel, Personnel, you name it, I want to have an impact similar to the impact that Columbus, and the communications squadron has had on me.
Honestly, everything is about perspective and attitude in life. There were plenty of ways that I could have looked at my situation. I could have lost all motivation, felt bad for myself, and even resented the Air Force for doing this to me, but instead I saw this as a blessing in disguise.
I have no doubt in my mind that I could have been successful in UPT and would have loved the thrill of flying, but that was just not meant for me in my journey.
I still don't know what I will do or where I will end up, but I know that the 14 Communication Squadron, Major Gutierrez, and even Team BLAZE has prepared me for whatever my future will hold. That I am truly thankful for.