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380AEW Article

Why I serve – Capt Mark Erwin

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady
  • 380 AEW/PA

In an interview with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, U.S. Air Force Capt. Mark Erwin opens up about his decision to join the U.S. Air Force, what drove him to serve, and how he's helping Airmen at the 380th AEW, Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

What were you doing the specific moment you decided to join the military?

I was at work at a car dealership. I had been disrespected by one of the senior managers for eating seconds at a potluck, and I recognized in that moment how awful my work environment was, and for only seven dollars an hour. I hated everything about that job, but I couldn’t quit. I was getting school credit for being there, so I wouldn’t graduate if I quit or was fired. I sat at my desk and made a list of everything I didn’t like about my job, and the opposites of that list in a separate column.  I thought, what job has all of these qualities, like good pay, coworkers that I can depend on, some kind of purpose beyond making money for someone else, among other aspects. I concluded that any service-type job that wears a uniform would meet that criteria such as police, firefighter, Emergency Medical Services or military. I further concluded that a military officer would suit me best.

What was the deciding factor that drove your decision to military service?

College was not optional for me, as my parents had already paid for it at a discount when I was very young. I wasn’t sure I would perform well in an extracurricular program since I had never done Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps or sports in high school, so I had my reservations about joining ROTC. The cadre there basically told me, “If you’re curious about it, just try it and see what happens.” I have never regretted that decision.

What did it feel like when you finished basic training and learned what your career path would be? What was your first assignment?

I learned that I would be a Combat Systems Officer one year after completing Field Training in the ROTC program. I felt extremely proud, and my first thought was that I wished my dad and grandfather could have seen that moment. Both had passed years earlier, and both had served and were the only members of my family to do so, besides me. My first assignment was to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida for training. Any time I struggled, I told myself that alternative careers would be just as hard and less exciting. Throughout that year, I proved to myself that I can sustain high levels of mental exertion for extended periods of time.  It was much more challenging than college.

Can you summarize what Air Force life has been like for you up until you found out you were deploying to ADAB?

This is my second tour to ADAB, but I can definitely say Air Force life is much more hectic back home.  Our home station Ops Group has many TDYs and Global Reaction Force commitments to contend with year round. Add pre-deployment spin up to that mix, as well as additional duties and a manning shortage, and what you get is a very busy, very taxing schedule.

What are you doing here at ADAB? What is your day like?

This time around, I am the commander’s executive officer for the 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron. I am a Navigator by trade, and I fly on average once every other week. On a typical day, I get up around 4 a.m. and work out. After calling or texting loved ones back home, I grab breakfast at 8 a.m. and I’m at work by 8:30 a.m. I’ll work in or around the office until sometime around 5:30 p.m.  If I fly, my hours can be significantly different, as our flights out here are more than 13 hours long.

What about your job makes you feel like you have purpose at ADAB, and how do you feel connected to the mission?

A good navigator on the Airborne Warning and Control System can significantly improve the situational awareness of the flight deck, as well as overall sortie effectiveness. Sometimes I can even help other aircraft in the combat zone. This can manifest itself in many different ways. In addition to steering the jet with the autopilot and talking on radios, I manage fuel requirements, coordinate timing to other sortie events, communicate with the mission crew, relay radio calls for other aircraft, and build contingency plans. Last year was exceptionally rewarding, as our combat flights were very busy and eventful. Each time we stepped to fly, our mission planning cell would show us a strike video from our previous flight, so that we could see what work had been done while we were on station previously.  Our jet may not have any kinetic weapons on board, but we are still very connected to the fight. I like that.

How are you making the best of your deployment?

I’ve been working out a lot since I got here. I also take advantage of the DFAC to eat much healthier.  Back home, eating lots of vegetables means buying lots of perishable food, which in turn means frequent trips to the grocery store. While I’m here, I like to take full advantage of the salad bars.

If you could have one thing said about your time in service here at Al Dhafra, what would you want your fellow Airman to say about you?

“I can always depend on Chaco, plus he makes everything more fun!”

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice of what your life would be like after you joined the Air Force, what would you say to re-assure your younger self?

I would definitely say, “Stick with the choices you’ve made,” as I have no regrets whatsoever. I would also remind my younger self that it’s easier to count the blessings you have than the ones you don’t.  Life is full of curveballs and surprises/disappointments of varying degrees of severity. Had I kept that in the forefront of my mind, I would probably would have been a little happier along the way, but overall I’m very pleased with the way things have turned out. Counting your blessings isn’t the only key to happiness, but it’s definitely part of it.