What I’ve gained from 20 years in the Air Force

20 years ago today, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force through ROTC.  I remember how spending the next 4 years serving “active duty” or the next 6 years in the Air Guard or Reserves seemed like an eternity of commitment to “pay back” the entity that’d covered my tuition and books for the previous 4 years.

Today, I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF Reserves. After 11 years in the Air National Guard, I’ve spent 9 in the Ready Reserve or traditional Reserves.  Since that commissioning ceremony 20 years ago, I’ve had many, many early wake-ups and sacrificed weekends.  I’ve missed a few weddings I wanted to attend.  I’ve had to forego the chance to grow out my hair, see if I could cobble together a beard, or smoke weed when we were in Denver a few years ago. But I honestly think I’ve gained more than I’ve foregone.  Here’s why.

I finished law school and a 2-month bar prep class without needing loans, thanks to the GI Bill.  Know many attorneys with no school debt?  Neither do I.

We were able to buy a nice house several years ago, thanks to a VA loan.

My bride and I are self-employed and don’t have 4-figure health insurance premiums, thanks to Tricare.

We get discounts at theme parks, museums, and hotels.

I’ve been to all 50 states.  I’m pretty sure I’d still be missing Alaska, Vermont, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine without the help of the Air Force KC-135s and C-130s.

I’ve had great experiences–“bucket list” items–thanks to the Air Force, like playing blackjack in Las Vegas, camping in Denali National Park, learning to surf in Honolulu, eating fresh lobster in Maine, hiking a rainforest in Puerto Rico, skiing in Park City, having Valentine’s Day dinner in Paris, driving 600km across olive groves in Spain, touring the Tower of London, driving a BMW 325i 135 mph across Oklahoma, sharing a NASCAR “ride along” with my dad at Dallas Motor Speedway, and flying a Cessna 3,000 feet above the ocean cliffs of Molokai.

I’ve made great friends, like Shane, whose wedding I officiated 10 years after we’d spent 5 months together in Iraq.

I started blogging because of the Air Force, as I was lonely and bored while working solo Saturday shifts during a deployment to Andrews in 2006.  Then I started another blog while in Iraq in 2007.  And then started writing for other sites (like DadCentric, City Dads Group, and Humor Blogs) upon coming home in 2008.  Blogging has led to hundreds of new friendships, numerous travel opportunities, and even an Iris award after an epic philanthropic project. Last year at Dad 2.0, I moderated a panel focused on military service.

The above paragraphs are why I’m a little embarrassed by the occasional “thank you for your service” comments I get from civilians who learn of my time in the Guard or Reserves.  If all I’ve benefited from the military were weighed against all I’ve contributed to it, I think I’d get a great view of Lady Justice’s forehead, not her knees.

But you know what?  I’d wager most of my fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines would say the same.

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