My first few years in the Air Force I was an aircraft mechanic. I grew to enjoy aspects of the job, but I certainly didn’t want to do this for my life. What goes on out on the flight line is an HR person’s nightmare. People say some of the craziest things to each other and it is par for the course. Sometimes the sayings are to get a reaction, sometimes they reveal the identity of the person. One day at the beginning of swing shift, which was 3:30 PM to 11:30 PM on paper, but more like 3PM to Midnight in daily practice depending on your position. We were on the truck just talking about our personal travels. At the time, I had never been down South and in this conversation expressed my desire to only visit certain parts of the South, Atlanta, Miami, and places like that. The shift manager that evening was a guy filling in that I wasn’t very familiar with. As we were pulling into the parking lot to get someone this shift manager said, “I don’t know how much you like nature, but if you come down south, I’d like to introduce you to a tree”. Doesn’t take a Harvard education to know what he meant by this, but if it’s not obvious to you, he was implying he’d enjoy lynching me. When I pressed him on the question, he hopped out of the truck and ran into the building, and never came back out. That was 2 months after I turned 20.
Roughly six weeks after this incident I found myself getting off a cargo plane in Kuwait for “escort duty”. Translation, I walked around with an M16 many days, watching laborers build and clean things. While I was there, I first heard the name Osama Bin Laden. They had signs up offering $10M for information leading to his capture or death. I jokingly asked if the reward applied to military too, because I’d form a search party myself if needed. It did not. Every day I was there I would watch the A10’s take off with a lot of air to ground munitions, generically termed bombs. They’d go up in the morning loaded, come down in the afternoon expended. I repeatedly asked what they were doing seeing as we weren’t at war. Never got a worthwhile response until towards the end of my 3.5 months. We were told a bomb was accidentally dropped on a mosque and people were outraged so we couldn’t go off base. Days after that, we were told of another accidental bombing, this time an elementary school. Both situations they were filled with people. Less than a month later, I was back in Japan and September 11th happened.
Period of Enlightenment
October 2001, my girlfriend at the time deployed to Saudi Arabia. Things were rocky with us at the time, so it was a bit of a relief. I concluded at that time that I wasn’t happy with life, so I embarked on a spiritual journey once she left. That journey lasted for about 11 months. I went hardcore Christian for 6 months, began reading up on other religions for the next 5 months and concluded, religion wasn’t for me. I felt a lot better; my head was clear; my outlook was different and the energy I put out was better. For the next 5 years, every goal I set, I achieved and then some. I don’t really like going into my accomplishments like that, so I’ll simply state I won a lot of awards, got into the career field I wanted to be in, then won awards in that field as well, took some classes towards my degree, and I felt on top of the world. If you’re not sure how old I am at this point of the story, I’m 25 years old, quickly approaching 26, living in Las Vegas.
In addition to manifesting all these positive elements, I was learning about various aspects of life. I was also volunteering in the Big Brother/Big Sister program in Las Vegas. Funny sidebar, when I applied to be a Big Brother, I had to go in for an interview. I drove a Jeep Liberty at the time and the A/C was absolute trash in this car. It was 107 degrees outside and I forgot to put my sunshade up when I went to work. Due to site visits that day, I was running really close to late for my interview, which resulted in me having to do it in my uniform. I got lost in their building and wouldn’t yo know, they had their A/C set to balmy. Already sweating like Patrick Ewing, I go into the bathroom, wipe my face with paper towel rush into the interview. Still hot, beads of sweat already forming on my bald head waiting to pool together and slide off, the lady asks, “have you ever been attracted to kids” and on cue, the sweat drops. I told her we needed to pause the interview because I was still hot, not because of some R. Kelly tendencies. She agreed and once I was able to get cool, I made it through the interview perfectly fine.
Change Gonna Come
I also came across this Serbian guy that produced and recorded music in 2007. Inspired by Lupe Fiasco being from my old neighborhood, I began creating rap songs in my head as I’d drive around Las Vegas. When I met him, he immediately said “you don’t look like a rapper” which is probably true. He ended up creating a beat on the spot and I created a song while we sat there. He chopped up the Sam Cooke song Change Gonna Come, and my lyrics were tailored to the sample. He was impressed by this, and we began making a lot of songs. I took a break in writing to listen to that first song after beginning this paragraph…it was terrible. I can only use it as an example of sticking with something to achieve improvement. However, that song was the reawakening of the creative writing bug, and that kinda led to this blog in some weird roundabout way.
2008 was crazy, I got tagged for a deployment to Kyrgyzstan in January, I was being singled out in a bad way with the office politics and my long-distance girlfriend had just moved back to America. February, she and I were hanging on by threads, March we attended my sister’s wedding, April I bought an engagement ring, in May I proposed, got married, and went to Kyrgyzstan for 6 months. While in Kyrgyzstan, I severely sprained my wrist playing basketball in June, became the best chess player on base between June and September, gained 25 pounds to go with that. Began working out and playing basketball for 2 hours a day in October, lost 40 pounds by the end of November when I went back home.
A lot of life happened in 2008, and with the election of Barack Obama, I felt like I needed to get my sh*t together. My first day at my new assignment in Nebraska was the day Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, and the overall mood in the office was negative towards him. The military is supposed to be neutral, but the demographics are about 65% Republican and it shows at times when diversity and inclusion become a topic. They didn’t put his presidential picture up until August after someone that looks just like me, took George Bush’s picture down. Take from this what you will, but I saw it as blatant disrespect of a racial nature. They had every other picture up, to include Vice President Biden, but then left George Bush’s Presidential picture up. Hint taken!
Earlier in 2009, I re-enrolled in college with a renewed focus to press on. I was deployed again to Afghanistan where I had several near-death experiences, but I maintained my wits enough to carry a 3.9 GPA when I graduated in 2010 at the age of 29 (say that last part out loud and it sounds strange when you also visually see one is a 4 digit year and the other a 2 digit age). My wife gave birth to our daughter and I got tagged for another deployment, this time to Iraq and though it was already my plan, this solidified my decision to gracefully bow out and leave the Air Force. On my way out most of my leadership team treated me like crap. They moved me away from the rest of the team into what used to be a storage closet on the other end of the building, and when my last day came, there was no celebration of time served or any sort of a show of appreciation. The “leaders” said nothing to me at all actually. I left as if I were never there, 10 days before I turned 30 years old.
Fascinating story Doug, I enjoyed reading about your life experiences.