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Opportunity knocked, did you answer the door?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. John Dougherty
  • 451 AEW PERSCO
On 21 May 2010, opportunity knocked on my door - and when I opened it, I was facing the Army of One slogan.

My Unit Deployment Manager just left my office after advising me that I was the lucky recipient of a 179 day deployment. This golden opportunity was extra special because I was destined to be a Jet Airmen and was facing multiple temporary duty trips to train with my sister service. My initial thoughts were all positive - I was excited for the opportunity to serve in Afghanistan. Additionally, my end location was Mazar-e Sharif Airfield, a German led installation in Northern Afghanistan, and of course I was going to be with the Army and that was a new and exciting challenge.

Many opportunities were presented to me that day starting with training, personal development, and the professional opportunity to serve in the War on Terror. At the time, I am not sure I understood the depth of the opportunities placed at my feet, but as I tell my story, I hope you will see the good that came out of the door knocking opportunity I received last May.

My first opportunity with training was to attend the Army's Casualty Operations course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At first, I thought, what can the Army offer me in Casualty Operations? I immediately took the training as a waste of my time--and it made sense to me--I performed casualty operations for 20 of my 25 years in profession. Upon arrival to South Carolina, aside from stifling heat, I was pleasantly surprised with the opportunity to train with our Army brethren. The instructors were professional and the training curriculum was strong.

I quickly learned that the Army and Air Force operate closely together on the spectrum of people programs and with that, my attitude changed. It changed and was no longer a waste of time, but more a chance to push myself to deliver quality service to not only the Air Force, but to the Army. The Army does things differently - but simultaneously - they use the same software, notify families in a similar fashion, and of course, pay benefits - much like the Air Force. This opportunity to experience another service's training set me up for the next round of training conducting force accountability, and again, the Army's concepts were similar, the method just slightly different. Where I gained most from this opportunity - was at Combat Skills Training. I found myself with 94 other Air Force personnel learning a phase of combat operations I never experienced. I handled the M-16 and M9 more in those 40 days than in my entire career. These professional warriors were teaching me something I hadn't yet grasped. They taught me the concept of survival in theater. I learned from this opportunity, specifically, that one should not shy away from training, none of us are above training, and all of us can use the benefits of training opportunities to excel in our combat duty performance.

Along with improvements to my combat performance, I found this deployment offered me an opportunity, and I am sure, each of you, the opportunity to improve on personal development. Yes, I will say the dreaded "F" word--Fitness. The opportunity to work on your personal fitness development is no better than in the AOR. With the limited social enticement offered by General Order 1b, we don't get much opportunity to do more than work, sleep, exercise, and well, work, sleep and exercise. I hope each of you will look at your personal development and set goals--achievable goals that will encourage you to make a life style or behavior change that is very difficult to do when you are at home station. Since the start of my training and subsequent deployment, I lost 22 pounds. This is comical to some because I don't have 22 pounds to lose. Some say it's the food on Kandahar Airfield, and I agree, but it is also my desire to improve my personal self. I run regularly at home, but here, I overcome the nasty things we experience outside and run in the warm Afghanistan sun. I am up to eight or nine miles and in January, I completed my first half-marathon. I've taken the opportunity that knocked and used it to improve my physical health and establish patterns of behavior to achieve my goals. My long term goal is to run in the Air Force marathon - whether it is the 13 or 26 mile version is yet to be seen, but this deployment opportunity provided me the chance to be the fittest in my adult life and you can do the same, you just need to answer the door that opportunity is knocking on.

Along with personal development, each of us has the opportunity to grow professionally. I know each of us has the opportunity to take college classes, and yes, Kandahar University (a.k.a., the education center) offers several opportunities to further your educational goals. However, I want to get you thinking of a different spin on this professional development.

For the first time in my career, I needed to process paperwork for the Purple Heart. I remember reading about these medals long ago in my Career Development Courses, but never, in 25 years did I need to process one. This was the first of many "firsts" for this deployment. Lodging might not seem like much but this program also provided me many challenges to grow professionally during my tour. It is hard to juggle the movement for thousands of people but to also coordinate a place for one to sleep is difficult with so many variables beyond our control such as airflow and flight cancellations. Regardless, I didn't shy from any of these opportunities. I am sure that the crew chief on the flight line, the intelligence analyst, and the pararescue man faced many firsts during their tour. The opportunity presented here along with doing things for the first time, is to carry these success stories back home and incorporate the who, what, when, where and how with your home station training program.

Your experience here will strengthen future rotations if you take the opportunity to use today's lessons learned as tomorrow's agenda during home station training.

Opportunity is knocking and I wonder if you are brave enough to answer the door. Each of us is given a golden nugget in this deployment. The Air Force needs each of us to jump on board and exploit every opportunity we get to improve on our training, personal and professional development. The enemy changes their tactics daily and we too must change our methods. Don't sit back and allow opportunity to pass you by but rather stand tall and train with our coalition partners, develop and push yourself to achieve personal goals and expound on the many "firsts" you and your unit will achieve during this rotation. Each of us are defining history, you are the one that children in the future will think about as they read the text books on the War on Terror.

I hope that you will reflect back on your own experiences and tell your grandchildren how you capitalized on the many opportunities presented to you during your deployment to Afghanistan.