Reflections on 30 years of service

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. James R. Dowell
  • 97th Mission Support Group
 It seems like yesterday I was getting on a bus at the Oakland Military Entrance Processing Station in California, beginning the journey that led to basic military training, and ending at Altus AFB, Okla.

As I ruminated over a theme for this article, I'll admit to some writer's block. I've written a commentary or two over the years, but couldn't settle on what to say in my final commentary. So I asked a wise lieutenant, "What would you want to read?"

His answer provided much needed clarity. "Chief, discuss what has stayed consistently true throughout your career."

Excellent advice. While the Air Force has changed over the years, many principles have remained the same. There are three key principles that stand out:

First, "What was old is new again." Stay in the Air Force long enough and you'll see change; squadron structure, processes, functional specialties--you name it, it will change. But don't wipe your memory clear of the past. Many "old" ideas find their way back. They may have a different name, but you'll recognize the thrust of the idea when you see it. Don't fret about change, because it will happen. Make it work. When you see an old idea come full circle from the past to present, don't automatically discount it as a relic and hence unworkable. Remember your previous experiences, because you'll know the strengths and weaknesses of new ideas, and be better enabled to advise and implement them better.

Second, "You are responsible for your morale." The Air Force will do its best to provide morale and welfare activities for Airmen. However, each Airman must accept responsibility for their own attitude. Are some bases more pleasant than others? Are some supervisors better than others? Yes, in both cases, but good morale isn't solely dependent on the number of places to dine, shop or have fun. Nor is it a result of your supervisor's personality. Each Airman must make up their mind to make the best of the situation they are in. I've seen this firsthand. The highest morale I've seen has been in austere places like Thule Air Base, Greenland; Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea; and various tent cities in the middle of nowhere. Why? Airmen collectively realized they were responsible for their own outlook on life, and weren't dependent on creature comforts provided by someone else.

Third, "Of all the things that get easier in military service, saying goodbye gets more difficult." When I heard this as a 20-year old airman first class, I'll admit, I scoffed; it sounded crazy. As I get closer to the end of the fourth quarter of my career, I'm not chuckling anymore about the wisdom of that gem! Time and experience has a peculiar way of making those goodbyes difficult. When you deploy, move to a new base, separate or retire, you grow to learn the value of good comrades and close friends. Don't take them for granted. Respect them and stay in touch.

In closing, it's been a pleasure serving in our great Air Force. Throughout my career, I've had the honor to serve with the best Airmen in the world. The professionalism and productivity of our Airmen is an enduring truth that is just as evident now as it was decades past. Remember that your experiences and perspectives are important, and that they'll mature as the years go by. This will not only benefit you, but the Air Force as well.