Advancing through adversity

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class James L. Miller
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Every Airman experiences misfortune or setbacks in life; while some of them are things we can control, others we must face head on.

Last December, I endured a series of setbacks during technical training -- I hit my head while playing basketball. And the experience threatened everything I had worked so hard for up to that point.

It all happened so fast with my head connecting with a pole, causing my brain to ricochet off both the front and back of my skull. That is when the bleeding began, with blood spewing all over the ground, painting the dull gray cement with splashes of red. What was not seen was the bleeding occurring in my brain at the same time.

A concussion and internal bleeding the injury caused resulted in alarming test results, leaving me stranded in the hospital for 12 days. It even extended my time in technical training from four to eight months, with my original class graduating three months ahead of me.

The final setback -- losing 12 friends the day they crossed the stage without me. The friends I had started my journey with were now going on without me.

There was absolutely nothing going my way once I hit my head. I was afraid of being stuck in school longer, but I was even more afraid for my military career. I was all by myself in a hospital room with nobody to talk to.

No friends, no family.

I watched television by myself in a hospital 735 miles from home for my 19th birthday.
Most people would think of this as a sob story. But it is about perspective. How you react to setbacks and challenges defines what kind of person you are.

I could have thrown in the towel, sat and cried and asked why me, or I could have blamed someone else. But that is not who I am, and that is not why I joined the military.

I took all my setbacks with a grain of salt and tried to enjoy my time in the hospital. I had cheesecake twice a day with lunch and dinner, I had plenty of time to pass everyone on games I played on my phone, and I caught up on three different TV series after missing them while in basic training.

Most would consider this a mini-vacation, and I treated it as such. Soon enough though, my vacation was over with and I went back to school. Every day, I heard more jokes and serious warnings about playing basketball than most would hear in a lifetime.

"Hey, watch out for that telephone pole, don't play basketball unless you wear a helmet, and take it easy for a while, you just got out of the hospital," was all I heard the rest of my time in training.

I love basketball and have played it all my life.  It is part of who I am. I was not about to let all the people that told me to stay away keep me from playing.

If you love something you do not just stop and you certainly do not let other people's opinions cloud your judgment.

Once the doctor cleared me, I was back in the gym. I noticed right away that none of the people that made jokes or comments about me playing basketball were there with me.

That is when I knew I had overcome adversity. I worked through the brain injury, all the people warning me not to play, and I had come out on top. I had a million excuses to use and ignored them all.

Meanwhile, I've come to realize that there are others with no excuses who choose to just sit around and watch TV or eat junk food and binge watch TV shows.

They are the ones struggling with physical training tests, not completing homework assignments and making excuses when they do not get the job done.

In my case, excuses fueled the fire that helped me push beyond adversity. And we, as Airmen, need to stop making excuses. I could not find an excuse, so you should not have one either.