What I've learned, an Airman's perspective

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Staker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When I raised my right hand and swore to defend my country, I wanted to travel the world and continue my education.

I managed to accomplish the first, spending the first two years of my enlistment at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Osan Air Base, South Korea but my ever-changing education goals remained nothing but an on-again, off-again relationship.

Still, three years have passed and I have made it to my second base, overcome some challenges and met wonderful people from all walks of life who may have run into trouble in their careers, much like I did at one point.

These experiences have reminded me that educations can come in many different forms and provided me with valuable lessons I would like to pass on to you. 

The first thing I learned was when your supervisor pulls you into a room and slaps a piece of paper in front of you, do not take it personally. No matter what the circumstances that landed you on the other side of his or her desk, they are doing this for your own good.

For example, a letter of counseling is not something that should steer you down a path of never-ending trouble. It is meant as a warning, a disciplinary tool reminding you to use some common sense before making the same mistake again.

In my experience, receiving a letter of reprimand was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned that I was not ready to assume the responsibilities of a senior airman had I won below-the-zone because I could not follow the simplest of directions, even after having served almost two years in the Air Force. This helped me to understand that it is alright to stumble every now and then - no one is perfect.

I have also seen instances where people have gotten into a little bit of trouble and then more trouble, and it eventually followed them to their next assignment. This is not the case for every Airman.

Maybe you got an LOR; this doesn't mean your current base will automatically look down upon you or that your next base will hold it over your head.

Instead, the second thing I learned was to think of changing stations as a fresh start, a chance to be a better Airman.

When it came time for me to pin on that next rank, I knew I was ready for more responsibility because I was heading to a new base. There, more would be expected of me not only because of my rank, but also because of the experiences I had while stationed overseas.

Throughout my tour overseas, people told me to never judge the Air Force or my career field based on the experiences I had at a single base, but to wait until I changed stations to start forming opinions of my career and my time in service.

This piece of advice is probably one of the best I have gotten since I raised my right hand.

Yes, Kadena was an interesting experience, and so far Ellsworth has also been just as interesting, but no matter where you go, your assignment and your experiences are what you make of them. Do not blame the Air Force or your base for your wonderful ability to be a hermit, to stay inside and never communicate with the world outside of normal duty hours.

If you do not get out and try to take advantage of what is around you, you will fail to get the most out of serving your country.

Finally, if you make a mistake, stand up and brush yourself off, keep walking with your head held high and continue your career without missing a beat.

If you do this, you will realize the Air Force provides many opportunities for servicemembers, several which would not have been possible had you not put on the uniform.

I have traveled to a few countries, worked with men and women from other cultures, even met amazing and diverse people simply because I decided to wear a uniform only one percent of the U.S. population has the ability to wear.

I have gained social and professional skills, acquired the discipline I needed to kick myself into gear and every day I am grateful I decided to serve, because even though I may not carry a weapon into battle, I know I am making a difference, even when I don't experience it directly.