Thirty-four years goes by faster than you think. I’ve had a long and outstanding career here at McEntire. I’ve been to remote locations and had experiences with fellow guardsmen that created memories that will never be forgotten. But, along the way I’ve learned plenty of lessons, some the hard way. Whether donning gas masks in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm or running for shelter in Afghanistan while under a rocket attack, we all learned to work together, stay positive and get the job done.
I'm convinced that experience is the best teacher, and with that experience should come maturity. Military maturity is what I like to call it. So, I’ve compiled a short list of items that I would like to leave you with before I retire in February. I hope you’ll take a little advice and maybe save yourself a lesson or two along the way. Most of these are no-brainers, but it seems that a lot of Airmen continue to struggle with a few of these, at least from my perspective.
1) Always draw your strength from God. He is the one source you can depend on and find comfort in every day of your life. Imagine you’re at a deployed location somewhere in the Middle East. You’re working 12 hour shifts seven days a week. It’s hot, you’re tired, hungry and far from home. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the alarm goes off and you have incoming. I promise you, God will be the source you find strength and comfort in. He is the one that will pull you through when your strength runs out, because that’s when God’s strength begins.
2) Do your Career Development Courses, Professional Military Education and get your Community College of the Air Force associate degree. Don’t be the person standing in the way of your own career. If you don’t complete these courses, you have no one else to blame for not being promoted except yourself. ‘Nuff said.
3) Take care of yourself and pass your Physical Training test. Stop being that Airman that won’t take his/her test or won’t put the time in, in order to receive a passing score. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and the long-term rewards will follow. Also, your scores play a key role in your promotion and retention.
4) Join the Veterans Administration. Who can join? According to the VA website, “Current and former members of the Reserves or National Guard who were called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty may be eligible for VA health benefits”. If this applies to you, then get this done. There are improvements in the VA system every day. Hint: Keep all copies of your DD Form 214.
5) Keep a hard copy of all of your orders. AROWS maintains an electronic version from 2015 forward. For a copy of your orders prior to 2015 you can contact DFAS at (888) 332-7411. Every time you deploy or are on active duty for any reason, keep a certified copy. When you’re ready to retire, having access to a copy of your orders will come in handy as you apply for the Reduced Retirement Age benefit. Also, every day you’re on orders you get a point toward retirement. After 20 years you’ll be surprised how many points you’ve accumulated. Points, rank and time in grade equals retirement pay. This is an excellent benefit waiting for you when you reach the age of 60.
6) Take care of your wingman. Watch out for one another, work together and keep a positive attitude. Team work and a positive attitude can pull your unit through just about any situation.
7) Make use of resources that are offered to you through the guard. Some prime examples are the GI Bill, Tri Care, Chaplain’s office, legal assistance and VA home loans to name a few.
8) Become a member of Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) and The National Guard Association of South Carolina (NGASC). Financially, it makes better sense to pay the lifetime enlisted dues as opposed to paying the yearly fee over the lifetime of your guard career. The benefits provided to you by these outstanding organizations far exceeds your small membership cost. The link below is a great source with detailed information about some of these benefits. http://ngasc.org/membership/benifits/.
9) Remember, the mission is the ultimate goal, but in order for the mission to be a success you need to take care of yourself, your family and your wingman. I’m a firm believer that anything in life worth having doesn't come easy. It takes patience, dedication, hard work and perseverance to rise up and meet the challenge. It takes effort and you’re the only one who decides how much effort you’re willing to give. I hope you give it your best!
I wish each and every one of you success in all you do. If at any point in your life, I can help you in any way, please feel free to contact me. It’s been an honor to serve with each and every one of you!