Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Jake Joined the Air Force

I recently posted an essay that Jake wrote for his English class. He's written a couple more since then, but this one I found especially interesting. The assignment was to write about the event that most changed his life.

Shaping My Life

            Can you think of one event in your past that you believe shaped your life? I really never put much thought into that question, but after being given this assignment, I did put a lot of thought into it, but I can’t say I’m surprised by the answer. I can easily say that the most significant event in my life that changed who I am today was joining the military. Deciding to enlist in the Air Force just kind of fell into my plans, but am I ever glad I did. The Air Force has taught me about working hard, being a leader, and appreciating life.

            The influences leading up to my decision to join the Air Force started before I was even born. My dad was in the Air Force, and for the first 6 years of my life, I lived on Air Force bases. There are many things that I remember about that time. I noticed the camaraderie between friends seems strong within the military. We always either had my parents’ friends at our house, or went to their houses. I also realized the opportunities to travel the world through the Air Force. When I was 5, we actually lived in Japan. Even though I was young when my dad was in the Air Force, I saw enough to know that military life was a way of life that appealed to me.

            By my Junior year of High School, I started to notice that most of my classmates were getting interested in visiting and choosing a college to attend. I have to confess that I hadn’t put any thought into college. My dad died when I was 12, and my mom and I never discussed school work, or grades, or future plans. Since my mom never asked about school, I admit that I wasn’t very motivated in High School, and didn’t get very good grades. I did enough to pass my classes, but certainly not well enough to get any college scholarships. Of course, I had no other way to pay for college, so I quickly realized that going to college right after High School was probably not even an option for me. This got me thinking about the military.

            On September 11, 2001, I was a Junior in High School. I was sitting in my Business Marketing class, just sitting around chatting with friends. A teacher from a different class walked into our room and told my teacher to turn on the TV right away. For the rest of the day, the entire country sat in front of their TV’s, watching repeated footage of two planes flying directly into the World Trade Center towers. Like everyone else, I was shocked and confused, but I soon noticed the change in the United States. The new appeal of giving back and supporting a cause bigger than myself was starting to draw me in. I was finalizing a decision to join the military.

            I had to wait until I was 18 to enlist, so soon after my 18 birthday, as a High School Senior, I went to the Air Force recruiter’s office and began the process. After I graduated High School, I was sworn in and left for basic training in Texas. Soon after leaving, I realized just how much more there is to the Air Force and what I was really getting into. In basic training, you start changing who you are. Even if you do not want to change, you are made to change. Everything from the way you walk, to what you say, you start to adopt more efficient and higher quality of standards. I thrived under the discipline and liked how I was learning to better myself.

            Another facet of life truly started to come to light while I was at basic. Maggie and I had gone our separate ways at the end of High School. She had moved away to college while I went off to basic. We were realizing how much we missed each other by being apart. By the end of basic you realize how you can grow to reach new and difficult challenges put in front of you. We decided to accept the challenge to continue our relationship long distance. When I received orders to my first base in North Dakota, Maggie decided to leave her scholarship to Maryville University in St. Louis, and transfer to Minot State University to be near me. Seeing what she was willing to give up and do for me made me want to work that much harder at being successful in the Air Force to take care of her.

During my first few years as an Airman, I was changing in that I became more of a professional and learning how to managing my time to complete an overwhelming amount of work. After a few years, my hard work was starting to pay off, as I was awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant. Along with that rank, came more responsibility. I was now expected to be in charge of other people. I had to lead and train them to perform at their best according to Air Force standards. At 23 years old, this was a huge undertaking. Being the supervisor of younger Airman was a daunting task. How was I going to be able to actually give them the potential guidance and mentorship they were looking for when I was not much older or more experienced as they were?

It has taken a few years, but now I can actually say I feel comfortable with taking on the challenge of leadership. I had to drastically changing my approach to communication. I’ve learned to slow down and talk to people about how and why they are needed to complete the task given to them. Even though I really just want to tell them to stop wasting time talking about it and just do it because it could already be finished. I have changed and learned how to be more patient and understanding to the needs of others.

In August of 2008, a new challenge was placed in front of me. For my first deployment I would be attached to the Army supporting the 5th Engineering Battalion as a convoy mechanic. Seeing firsthand the struggles of life in a war torn country quickly allowed me to appreciate what I was given in life, not to mention seeing how quickly life can be taken away before you even have the opportunity to change. This experience helped me to decide what direction I wanted my life to go. Shortly after leaving Iraq, I married Maggie, making that relationship a permanent one.

            A lot of events can alter the direction your life goes, but sometimes, there can be major events that significantly form your future. As I have explained, joining the Air Force was very momentous in shaping my life. My time in the military has made me a harder worker, given me leadership skills, and helped me realize the importance of life which pushed me to solidify relationships that may have otherwise slipped away.

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