MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
Editor’s Note: Lt.Col. Laymon retired from the South Carolina Air National Guard in May.
It was June 1980. A 17-year-old young man from northern Minnesota got on an airplane headed to San Antonio, Texas, to embark upon an adventurous Air Force career. The Minneapolis temperature was a pleasant 53 degrees. The culture shock was immediate because Texas greeted me with a 109 degree temperature and nearly 100 percent humidity! It made me recall a line from the movie “Biloxi Blues” when young Eugene Jerome (played by Mathew Broderick) stated in a similar situation, "It's hot. It's damn hot. This is Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot. I don't think I can stay here if it's going to be this hot."
Fast-forward 42 years, and after thousands of similarly unforgettable experiences, that 17-year-old is about to hang up his military uniform. Having a purpose and staying motivated can cause you to move mountains when you're being counted on. My journey would not have been as rewarding or possible without my family, friends, mentors, and unforgettable troops over the years. Individually thanking everyone would be a mountain-like challenge. However, I'm grateful beyond measure.
As I pass the torch to the next generation of Airmen, I'd like to share some of the lessons I have learned through the years. Essentially, there are three things that will end a military career faster than the blink of an eye. They are the abuse of sex, substance, and/or money:
- Abusing money (on or off duty) will destroy your security clearance. Whether it's government travel card misuse, improper spending of unit budgets, or not paying personal bills, the result is the same.
- Alcohol, prescription and/or unlawful drug abuse can swiftly destroy lives and careers. If ever in doubt, ask your doctor or seek other professional help. Don't wait until things are out of control.
- Extramarital affairs, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct will demolish your profession. The abuse of sex has dramatically changed since I joined in 1980. Back then, there was zero tolerance toward mixed-gender relationships and high tolerance toward open sexual harassment. We still have a long way to go in understanding current relationship dynamics. However, the Air Force's zero-tolerance policy on sexual matters is crystal clear.
Another lesson learned is that life is not a marathon. Instead, it is a series of short intervals where we are comfortable, non-threatened, and relatively carefree at times. But then, "life happens," and we sprint for our very existence. It can be a promotion, new position, birth of a child, or even going back to school. Whatever the event, it requires a full-on emotional and physical charge. My former track coach, God rest his soul, used to tell us, "go out hard, pick it up, and sprint the finish." Although you can do this in a "shorter" running event, if you try and run your career this way, you will undoubtedly burn out way before the finish line. So pace your career when you are comfortably sailing along, rest and focus; know that life turns on a dime, and be ready for the inevitable sprint.
A significant key to a long career is to take care of your physical and mental health. Find an activity that challenges you to "take-out-the-mental-garbage." If you don't practice this often, it will undoubtedly smell up the place. Today, I don't run as much, but I cycle, swim, kayak, etc., to get outside and enjoy each day. In five hundred years, what will your great, great, great, great, great-grandchild say about what you did? Crickets! For this reason, the present is the most significant moment in your life, your here and now. You can do little about yesterday. However, you can directly influence your next 24 hours (and perhaps someone else's too).
Today we carry $1,000 computers in our pocket. This personal computing power is both convenient and a curse. It can instantly give access to a wealth of information and assist in developing knowledge. At the same time, it can be a vast time-toilet where we flush our hours away "liking" and wanting to be "liked" through social media. It's a commonplace now to witness almost everyone publically engaging their personal devices in all types of social settings. Regardless, the message here is simple: use the technology and look to balance it with the flesh-and-blood humans in the room! The in-person connections are what truly help us grow and define our successes.
In closing, I am speaking directly to the new Master Sergeants and Majors. Your rank is transitional; entry into the Senior NCO and Field Grade Officer tiers is a huge milestone. It took a lot of time, sacrifice, effort, and being in the right place at the right time to get to where you are today, so use your power for good! In my young Airman days, I "hoped" someone would help me and take care of my problems. As new mid-level managers, you must develop the ability to recognize those Airmen who "hope" you will help them because it's unlikely they will ask for your help. Additionally, look upward in your chain of command and figure out how to solve your boss' problems. There's no quicker way to succeed than being recognized as the company problem solver! Finally, it's a great moment in your career to consider a staff tour but stay vigilant. When you can no longer hear the sound of jet engines, you may have strayed a bit too far.
Thank you all for a wonderful military career and a great Swamp Fox experience.