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My Force Shaping Journey

  • Published
  • By Maj. Khalid Cannon
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
In 2007, when given the opportunity to voluntarily separate from the Air Force, I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

Having started as a 17-year-old cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and having served nine years on active duty, I didn't even know what it was like to work full time outside the military.

I served in internships and did manual labor around my parent's property in Chicago, but my ROTC scholarship and stipend allowed me to study full time. When I graduated, I was given the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree through the Air Force Institute of Technology.

On paper, I felt it would be fairly easy to get a job working strategic communications and use my media relations and internal communications experience.

When I finally decided to put my package in, my wing commander encouraged me to stay in and told me very encouraging things about my future, should I stay in. I had just promoted and my path to retirement was fairly certain. But, I just knew it was time to leave.

My commander told me that he wouldn't sign my paperwork until after I gave it more thought over the weekend. First thing on Monday, I assured him that I made my decision and he signed the paperwork.

My plan was to move back to the Midwest, get a job working in public relations, buy a house and settle down. After a few months of looking for work, I was getting a little concerned but I was still very optimistic.

Six months turned into 11 months and I was starting to become very pessimistic about my plan. I didn't have health insurance or any other benefits. My family was counting on me, and I had to depend completely on my faith because I didn't have the answer. To say that I was humbled would be an understatement.

A crucial lesson I learned was that my rank didn't matter to employers, but my experience did. I found out after months of applying that I needed to get my resume professionally written to articulate that experience in a way they understood.

Once I did that, I started getting calls for interviews, but it just seemed like I couldn't get the job after my second interview. I read as many books as I could on interviewing, and prepared to answer every possible interview question.

On a few occasions, I was asked if I would consider moving but I just bought a house and settled my family.

After attending a job fair for veterans, I finally landed a position working as a management trainee at a large retail company.

After unpacking countless boxes of toys and canned goods, stocking shelves, working a cash register, arranging displays and learning about how a large store is run during the extremely busy Christmas holiday, I realized that retail wasn't for me.

During that same period, I was hired as a federal civilian employee and finally had stability. I was working with several veterans, and was even able to apply my years of service toward retirement and time off.

After being separated for about three years, I made a decision: I joined the Air Force Reserve. I thought I was completely done with the military. But, putting on the uniform again felt right.

Now, I'm on my second volunteer deployment and have thoroughly enjoyed serving with active duty, Reserve, and Guard Airmen again.

I learned that even when you think your military career is over, life has a way of coming full circle.