It was not a difficult decision for me to join the Air Force. Though I prefer not to take orders, I learned to thrive in the pre-commissioning environment (ROTC in college) prior to entering active duty. Our ROTC detachment at Saint Louis University was an incredible place to thrive, to learn leadership lessons, and to socialize with other aspiring leaders. The work was always worth it because it gelled with my background and my values. Upon commissioning as a Second Lieutenant, I was told that I would be working as a missileer and would be stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Though the location was not ideal, my wife and I shrugged and smiled. We would gladly go where the Air Force needed us.
I learned many leadership lessons at Minot, and not just from the good examples, in fact, I would say that the most lasting examples were learned from the bad examples. My proudest day was learning that I had been selected, ahead of my peers, for flight command. It came as a shock and crushing disappointment when that was taken from me by a petty tyrant upon his learning of a mistake in my squadron (large group made up of 3 different flights). He did not employ the most basic of leadership tactics, but had me summarily hauled into his office for a dressing-down. I could not have been more shocked to be fired for a problem that had nothing to do with me or my flight. We are taught that a leader takes responsibility and delegates authority. This had prepared me for being brought to task for something someone in my command had done wrong, but not for a mishap in another flight! Needless to say, I was at loose ends. It was too soon in my commitment to separate from Active Duty, but I was consumed with anger over the event.
Out of that misfortune, an opportunity arose. A short tour deployment with the Army had come available for an electronic warfare officer. I had always wanted to “make a difference” in Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I leapt. After training at Fort Lewis with the Navy and Fort Huachuca with the Army, I found myself in Mosul, Iraq working to counter Radio Detonated IEDs.
I met some fantastic leaders and mentors in the field, from Army Battalion Commanders to the Chief Petty Officer that ran the electronic warfare shop at my Forward Operating Base. Those individuals changed the way that I saw the profession of arms. I had looked at it as a fulfillment of my parents’ expectations to serve; as a sanctuary, but I came to realize that I had morphed the Air Force into an ideal. Those leaders steered me back toward the bigger picture. The war in Iraq was about more than the Air Force, just as the troubles I had experienced professionally were about more than just my sense of wounded pride.
These are battles that had to be put in perspective.