COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
I enlisted into the Air Force in February of 1997, but I didn’t join the Air Force until March of 1999.
No, I’m not talking about the Delayed Enlistment Program, either. I’m talking about really joining the Air Force.
When I was in high school, there was no doubt in my mind that afterward, I would attend college; however, not having applied for any scholarships and realizing I didn’t have any money to spend on an education, the Air Force sounded like a good idea. Where else could I get a free education and get to travel? And go to school and travel, I did!
After I arrived at my first duty station, I hit the ground running and tried to learn all that I could. I wanted to contribute to my unit as much as possible and hurry through upgrade training so that I could start school. I hadn’t even completed my CDCs when I began my first college class.
Because of a new squadron policy, I knew I wouldn’t be able go anywhere until I had completed my CDCs and had a year of experience in my section. I could learn some useful skills, concentrate on my off-duty education, and finish my degree before my four-year enlistment was up. I thought: this Air Force thing was all right!
Of course, the time came for my first deployment, and I couldn’t have felt more ready! Online classes weren’t available yet, so I thought I would take a “break” from school during my 60-day deployment. Who knew, maybe I could get a CLEP in or something?
That deployment happened to be to Osan Air Base, Korea. I was working the night shift late one evening when the NCO In-Charge came in to tell us that we needed to pack up all of the equipment needed to support half of our pilots and prepare that equipment for shipping. The NCOIC told us that the pilots were leaving within 24 hours and three of us might return to our home station.
It was at that moment I knew our aircraft were immediately needed elsewhere. Our pilots were not to simply pass go or collect two hundred dollars, but were going to put boots on the ground in Italy the very next day. Incidentally, this was when the trouble brewing over Kosovo finally began to erupt: March of 1999.
What I realized during that little moment of clarity was simply this: there is a job and there is a mission. We all have a job to do to accomplish the mission. I had been taught my job and had been preached to about the mission, but I hadn’t internalized either one. As Airman 1st Class Beedle, I could recite the Air Force Core Values and ramble on about the unique mission of the U-2 “Dragon Lady” with the best of them, but I didn’t truly understand what any of it meant until that night.
As I was packing up my pilots’ full-pressure suits and preparing the paperwork, this realization was setting in. My wants may not have necessarily been the same as the Air Force’s needs, but that night I knew what I was there to do, and that was “to serve.” We, as Airmen, are part of something so much bigger than ourselves and any personal agendas that we may have. Certainly, the Air Force will allow and encourage us to further our educations and see the world, but never forget what each of us has agreed to do for the Air Force and our country in return.
So I ask you … have you joined the Air Force yet?