An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Rhapsody in blue: 10 years molds an Airman

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Ten years ago, I couldn't wait to see the new "Star Wars" movie. So naturally, that's what I focused on during that fateful bus ride on my way to begin basic military training. Thinking about lightsaber fights and epic space battles distracted me from second guessing this life-changing decision.

But here I am, 10 years later, celebrating this milestone during my fourth deployment to the Middle East. Like many Americans, I, too, joined the military as a result of 9/11. At the time, I was in my mid-20s with little to show for it and even less ambition in life.

All that changed on a bitter February morning, when a group of us discovered a thing or two about motivation when the booming voice of a military training instructor bellowed out, "Move! Move! Move!" as we stumbled out of the bus as quickly as we could.

The next few weeks of our lives were dominated by a "sense of urgency," moving "with a purpose" and avoiding being "lacksidaisical."

That's not even a word!

Of course, I wasn't going to correct the grammar of the tall, skinny staff sergeant with the wide-brimmed hat and thick Southern accent. After all, he'd made a point of figuring out how to pronounce my last name, and the first thing you learn in basic training is don't give the instructors any more reason to pay "special attention" to you than necessary.

It was the first lesson of many more to come during my first decade in the in the Air Force. So on this anniversary, I find myself reflecting on what else I've learned over the last 10 years. After all, we learn how to be Airmen from our peers, coworkers and supervisors. Each person we meet sets an example - both good and bad - of the kind of professional we strive to emulate or avoid.
But rather than focusing on the few bad apples, I've been thinking about the people who stand out as my role models and some of what they've taught me about being an Airman:

I learned what it means to be a leader among peers from an Airman in my sister flight at BMT and then again in my class during technical training school. Since day one, she's always dedicated herself to the point where she doesn't just excel at everything she does, she also makes it look easy.

At my first duty station, my first supervisor demanded excellence and insisted I give my best every day. He was quick to critique when something was wrong, but quicker with praise when something was right.

Your rank doesn't dictate your capability or how you treat other people, one of our lieutenants showed me. He was more interested in leading by example than micromanaging our days.

The captain in charge of our office trusted and believed in me, the best kind of inspiration an officer can give a young Airman. He once told me that people will never forget if you give them the opportunity to save face when they've made a mistake.

A captain I worked with during my second assignment insisted that confidence is just as important as competence, and your reputation comes from both. When we deployed together, he made sure everyone in the office knew their value to the mission. How he maintains his humility, I'll never know.

I learned that we're responsible for our own careers from a senior NCO who kept a jar of nails on his desk (the rumor was he was so tough he'd eat them for breakfast). If there's something you want, he'd often say, you have to be proactive. No one is going to hand you opportunities; you have to find them and you have to earn them.

And then one day came a revelation.

When I started dating (and eventually married) a fellow Airman, she helped me realize all those lessons weren't just about becoming a better Airman myself.

Leadership and dedication, critique and praise, trust and respect, honor and inspiration, attitude and aptitude, responsibility and drive also make us better spouses, better parents and better people.

I've also come to appreciate that the Air Force we're in now isn't "ours." It belongs to our replacements. That's why it's not just enough to learn from our mentors; we have to actually apply those lessons.

Every day is an opportunity to show your quality.

And unless you share knowledge with others, it's a finite resource that only exists as long as you're around.

Your legacy is the impact you have on others, so I hope I've passed something positive along to my fellow Airmen and my three sons. After all, I've benefitted a great deal from my mentors these 10 years.

And while being deployed can get overwhelming at times, one of the things that distracts me from missing my family is looking forward to watching movies together when I get home. First on the list, "Star Wars."