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Living the dream thanks to the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark Kirkpatrick
  • 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron
I used to fish from shore. Sitting in my lawn chair, beverage in hand, I'd relax after a hard week of work, and sometimes as a bonus, catch a couple fish. That all changed when I took up tournament bass fishing.

Over the past eight years, my fishing skills have progressed. I've reached a point where my dream of turning pro has become a reality. It was not easy. The major question I had to ask myself in the beginning was, "how do I receive corporate sponsorships to help offset the cost of this career dream?"

I sought out the advice of some the elite fishing professionals from ESPN Bass and the Forrest Wood Tournament Tour, and to my surprise everything said I would need, I'd already been taught by the Air Force.

Professional fishermen use the following skills: public speaking, strong core values and writing to market themselves. These are what companies look for in sponsorship. Remember you're working for the company; the company is not working for you.

How could it be that I've been working in Force Support for 15 years, and no one ever mentioned this to me? I never thought that these skills would literally pay off in a sports sponsorship. But thinking about it made me realize, we, as professional Airmen, are taught these skills from day one at basic training.

Wearing a sharp uniform is no different than wearing your jersey and a pair of slacks or shorts. My fishing contracts states, "no blue jeans while fishing in tournaments; public image is the first image ... it's the lasting image." What if we in the Air Force just walked around looking like we crawled out from under a rock? Would we be taken seriously as a fighting force? The same goes for my sponsors. Companies want a person that looks the part of a professional.

Looking the part was one thing, the speaking the part was another. Public speaking, boy was this hard and nerve racking for me. Fortunately Airman Leadership School and Non Commissioned Officer Academy prepared me. My first time on stage, with hundreds of people staring at me, the announcer asked "how was your day?" Without hesitation I began to rattle off about my performance that day, clearly and concisely. Did I make sense? I can't remember, but everyone clapped as I left the stage.

Next, I had to do a 15-minute spot on the "Four Corners Fishing show" that reached four thousand strong. How would I get my sponsors names out on radio? The host called me 10 minutes before air time to give me a rundown of what we were going to talk about and I quickly had to figure out how to fit my sponsors into the conversation. I reached back to my Air Force training and went straight to cue cards. In those ten minutes I got the topic and sub-topic, jotted down my notes and was able to put together a strong 15 minute program on fishing the central states. When I asked for feedback what I got from the other end of the phone was "great show!" and, "can you do this again?" Was I that good or was it my Air Force training?

Putting Air Force core values to use was the easy part. Integrity plays a major role in sports. Not doing the right thing just because one is looking is cheating. As Airmen we are also taught the value of volunteering. I base my volunteering around fishing of course. I'm active in organizations like Big Brothers and Cast for Kids Foundation that are devoted to taking challenged kids out for something the rest of us might take for granted, a day of fishing. In the Air Force, we strive to be excellent in all we do. At work we strive to complete the mission, be competitive in promotion, and win the battles we are engaged in. Guess what, it's no different in any sport we choose.

Finally, I learned the importance of practicing good writing skills. The Air Force has given me the confidence to put thought on paper. This article may have a mistake or two, but I'm still confident in writing it.

The last line I'll cast out to my fellow Airmen; take all of the training and skills the Air Force has afforded you, market yourself and go out and live your dream. I did it, and so can you.