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What My Prior Enlisted Years Taught Me

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Before commissioning, I spent 11 years as an Air Force enlisted member and made it to the rank of technical sergeant. I like to think I was a pretty sharp troop. I excelled throughout technical training school at Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida, as a Signal's Analyst. My leadership noticed my quick progression and skill, and I was chosen to go straight to advance school and then across the globe to the 6920th Electronic Security Command in Misawa, Japan. While at Misawa, I garnered quarterly awards and was selected for Senior Airman Below the Zone. However, I still had that Gary, Indiana "inner city" toughness and was only going to take so much. Many who don't have my background consider it a "bad attitude", but in reality, it is nothing more than a defense mechanism. You don't spend 18 years in the inner city, join the Air Force and suddenly a magic wand is waved and all your life experiences no longer exist. I was fortunate to have great supervisors who saw past my rough edges and mentored me, which is why I made it this far. THEY INVESTED IN ME!!!

It was 1988 and I was a buck sergeant. There was a girl who got on my ever-loving last nerve. In other words, I'd had enough. I went to my dorm room and calculated how much money I was going to lose because I was going to make this girl a fiber in the carpet and wanted to ensure I was going to get all of my money's worth. I knew I was going to get an Article 15, lose my star and be busted down to Senior Airmen. I estimated how long it would take me to get my star back and calculated about a $600 loss, which was a lot of money back then. Yes, this girl was going to get a good old-fashioned, Gary-girl beat down. What stopped me? I saw my supervisor's face. He would've been highly disappointed in me. It was not the Article 15 that stopped me; it was seeing the disappointment on my supervisor's face after investing so much in me. I remember when I made Senior Airman Below the Zone- he said, "It's good to see someone make it who deserves it."

So what did my enlisted years teach me? They taught me that investment in my troops can often be a stronger deterrent than the Article 15. They taught me to not only invest in those who have been deemed "the cream of the crop," but to NOT discount the ones who aren't "perfect." They taught me NOT to only select the A+ troops as volunteers for the high visibility wing-taskers, but to allow others the opportunity to succeed as well. Those years taught me that second chances can be invaluable. They taught me that if I "sow a seed", invest in my troops, and create an environment of equality, I will have a lot more Airmen who are like me and don't want to disappoint their leadership. Finally, I'll also have a unit full of motivated troops who come to work knowing they have a fair chance climbing the ladder to success and opportunities aren't just for those who are "liked".