BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
When I first signed my name on the dotted line to serve my country, I had all these crazy, outlandish ideas of what I thought my Air Force experience was going to be. Well, spoiler alert, they didn't come to fruition, but what I got was a million times better than anything I could've ever imagined.
The Air Force has not only introduced me into a career field that I will forever love, but it has taught me so many things about myself and realistically helped shape me into the person I am today.
I feel like I have learned how to be a leader, how to look for moments and not to take them for granted. As a photographer, certain scenarios happen in front of your camera. There are also times you must dig deep to find the moments. I have found that true in my life, as well. There are certain times when things fall into place and other times I’ve really had to search for the good.
Now I know the biggest question is, "why would you get out if you've had such a positive experience?" There are a couple of answers to that question, but the biggest is that I feel like it is my time to move on. It is time for me to take these new skills and perspectives that I have obtained and live out all the other dreams I have for myself.
I feel like there is a false perception that to make time in the military worthwhile, you must serve 20 years, which is not true. I am proof of that. If you're on the fence about joining because you don't want to commit to 20, join and see what it is all about. If you are on the fence about getting out, there are three things I want you to consider.
First, realize your goals and make a decision based on how you can achieve them. Some people have goals to have an outstanding military career, others want to use the military as a stepping-stone. I believe both are entirely respectable goals. I highly recommend serving this country to any and all who are able and ready for the experience.
My second piece of advice is, once you make your decision, plan it out as much as you possibly can. When you leave the military, that means instantly losing a paycheck, health care and potentially a place to stay. You need to know what you want to do, why you want to do it and more importantly, how you are going to do it. That has been the most stressful part of this transition, but there are a ton of resources available to you. You have to be willing to look for them.
My third and final piece of advice is this: Do not let anyone change your mind. That doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to advice from people you trust, but always come to the decision that is right for you. I have had so many people come to me and try to give me reasons to stay. I sat and listened to every single one of their pitches. I could instantly tell the people who genuinely cared about me and those who felt the need to try and retain me because they thought it was their "duty."
Those conversations not only helped solidify the fact others cared about me within the Air Force, but they also allowed me to find the holes in my plan. Each one left me with a question that I wanted to help myself find the answer to. So, when these people come to you, trust me they will, listen to what they have to say and apply it to your situation. They may have valid points, or they may bring up points you hadn't yet thought about.
When you find out your Airman is separating, please do not discourage them. The choice to separate is harder than you think. Instead, I challenge you to not only talk to them but listen. Showing them that you care and support them is a priceless gift that could change their mind or help them solidify their decision. Retention is important, yes, but so is creating a culture where Airmen are free to make decisions based on their personal, educational and professional needs.