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A deployed Air Force birthday

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
On Feb. 18, 1992, I stepped on a plane in Milwaukee, Wisc., and flew to San Antonio, Texas, with thoughts running through my mind telling me, "What did you just get yourself into?"

I'm sure every other new Airman headed there has the same thoughts. It's especially confirmed when you get to the airport, and there are training instructors with their signature "Smokey Bear" hats and stern voices directing you to your next station in life.

That day 18 years ago didn't seem to end until the wee hours of the night. I remember getting on to Lackland Air Force Base, doing a bunch of in-processing and learning what "hurry up and wait" meant. I also remember playing the "pick up your bag, drop your bag" exercise that tests your ability to take direction.

I was fortunate. I packed light and had no problem following the direction of our "new best friends" -- our TIs. A few others in my flight, however, seemed to have problems and faced the immediate attention of the training instructors.

That was the start of my Air Force life. At the time I never thought I'd get to the point I am now some 18 years later -- on a seventh deployment to Southwest Asia in a higher rank than any of my main TIs were at the time I entered. But looking back, without their great interest in molding me early, I can say for certain their lessons to me and my fellow Airmen wouldn't have stayed with us this long had they not been beneficial.

It's also amazing how the world has changed since those early days for me. Back in 1992, Operation Desert Storm had only been over for a year, President George H.W. Bush was our commander in chief, and Gen. Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The only expeditionary operations I thought about being involved in were whether or not I was going out with my unit to do a field training exercise.

I also wasn't married and had no family when I joined. That, of course, changed a few months later when I married my wingman for life, Bobbi, and started a family that now totals several daughters, a son and granddaughters. I really had a life change by joining the Air Force.

Now, as of Feb. 18, 2010, I'm deployed with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia. The wing I work at supports operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Iraq? Afghanistan? Horn of Africa? In 1992, speaking the names of those places seemed so distant yet now, for me, they're part of my everyday lingo.

On Feb. 18, at my deployed base, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, stopped to visit with the service members at our base. He held an "all hands" call and talked to us about the current state of affairs in the military. He talked about what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and thanked all in attendance for their service. He also thanked our families for their support in our continued operations for their sacrifice. I couldn't agree more.

Hearing Admiral Mullen talk to us brought me back to my first day in the military and made me realize that those second thoughts I had about heading to San Antonio were unjustified. Joining the Air Force and the military has been the best thing I've ever done. It makes me proud every day knowing that I made that leap to serve and to stay on this whole time.

Before Admiral Mullen left us, he greeted every Airman, Soldier and Sailor who was in attendance and gave them the Chairman's coin. For me, from now on, it will be my Air Force birthday coin but more importantly a reminder of why I serve.

My 18th Air Force birthday was a memorable one not just because of Admiral Mullen's visit but also about where I am. Serving takes sacrifice, but deploying and serving takes even more sacrifice. In 1992, I was away at basic training for six weeks. In 2010 on my deployment, I'm away for six months.

My second thoughts are gone. There is no more of the thinking, "What did you just get yourself into?" I'm staying on, fighting the good fight, and doing what I believe I was called to do.