Joining the United States Air Force in the late 1990s was the first major life decision I made on my own, and my attempt to find my place in the world. Though I was never alone in my journey, I did take the initial steps myself, and doing so marked the moment I became my own man. I was now responsible for my own choices and the consequences of those choices, be they positive or not.
Enlisting was also the last time I would ever do anything alone.
Thanks to the support of my wife and the brotherhood of my fellow trainees/Airmen, I was never left to fend for myself again. Not only were my fellow Airmen and I all in this together, but we also knew then that we would always be a part of something bigger than ourselves—a greater good with greater purpose, and it’s been my mission to carry this with me beyond my service.
As a member of the armed forces, I learned about honor, duty, self-discipline, and leadership. Understanding these qualities taught me how to work collaboratively and accomplish goals together as a team, but the less obvious lessons of service are more intrinsic.
I learned that nothing is impossible, even if you don’t believe that it’s possible. As long as you believe that something is possible, you can keep working under the assumption that you will succeed, and you’ll be surprised by the results of that assumption. I discovered that not giving myself any other option to believe in often resulted in the outcome I desired.
I also learned that anything worth doing requires a strong support structure — a system of people who are aligned in ensuring the best possible outcomes for any given objective. Each individual brings their own diverse perspective, specific skill set, area of expertise, and unique traits that make them valuable to the collective, as long as they’re working toward the team’s overarching goal.
These lessons have transcended my military service, and have served me well in my life. Though my enlistment lasted eight years and 11 months, over the course of almost a decade, I grew into myself and advanced. I developed my worldview based on a combination of my education, my experiences, and the sheer determination to become a contributing member of society, an equal partner to my wife, and a loving father to our children.
Twenty years later, I can confidently attribute my life’s blessings to that first step—that initial decision to join the military—as the moment my life became my own. I have never been more proud to be a United States Veteran.