After I graduated high school in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, I started college at a small school in Wisconsin. After one year, I moved down to Gainesville, Florida and went to school at a community college with the plan of transferring to the University of Florida once I had established residency. I was going to school full-time and working full-time to support myself. It was a grueling year for me, and I realized I had to figure out another way to pay for college. My older sister had been in the United States Army (for the GI Bill so she could complete college). I started thinking of enlisting. She told me that if I was going to go in to join the Air Force because rumor had it, they were treated the best. My father worked for the airlines industry his entire career so the thought of being around jets enticed me. I enlisted in the United States Air Force after I finished my year of school but wouldn’t leave for basic training until the fall so I could enjoy one last summer before I became government property for four years.
I was twenty years old when I went to basic training in San Antonio, Texas, so I had been out in the real world for a couple years. Most of the other enlistees were 18 and a lot had the attitude that goes with being 18. The two years of experience I had made a huge difference. I kept my head down and did what was expected of me. That’s not to say it was a cake walk, but I survived. I was then shipped off to my technical school where I was trained to be a maintenance production manager. During this schooling I received my orders for where I would be stationed. I was going to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. If you’ve never heard of Goldsboro (not surprising), it’s a teeny tiny town with nothing there but the Air Force base. Not what a 20 year old dreams of, but this is what I signed up for. I excelled at my job and took advantage of the Air Force offering undergraduate studies at the local colleges by going to school at night and on weekends. I finished my undergraduate degree with a double major, summa cum laude.
We were a training squadron for F-15 jets, so this is where the pilots would finally earn their wings. These pilots in training had to pass other courses and simulation training on other jet-like aircraft before they could even step to an F-15. Most of the pilots didn’t make it through the rigorous training, so I can tell you that the ones that do have earned that swagger they all strut with. I was responsible for scheduling all of the different flights as they had requirements such as day flights, night flights, different bomb configurations on the jets. The jets also had to go into certain time mandated inspections, some lasting weeks. The tricky part was flying down the hours on a jet so that when it went into inspection, we had used all of the allowable hours on the jet before the inspection was required. Any hours left on the jet were lost which meant I wasn’t doing my job very well.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because my time serving my country is something that means a great deal to me, as I know it does to each and every person that has served. And not just those people, the families of military members give up a great deal as well. I also think that our country doesn’t give enough recognition to our veterans. The people I worked with in the military were some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. The sense of community has yet to be matched and likely never will. We were a family—all of us. We didn’t succeed as a squadron unless each and every one of us succeeded at our job. I was in when September 11 happened and it’s something I will never forget. Half our base left and the other half stayed behind to support the mission from home and to keep training pilots. Being a veteran is part of who I am, and I want to support my fellow veterans. It’s like being in a special club—you don’t get it unless you yourself have served. I encourage all of you to take the time to not just thank any military personnel, past or present, but to truly acknowledge the sacrifice they and their families have made for the everyday freedoms you enjoy.