I just finished reading an article in the Atlantic concerning military personnel and recruitment titled “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving.” As a veteran and former officer who enjoyed my time in service I felt the urge to comment publicly.
My stint in the Air Force was the formative years of my professional development. The military formed many of the core beliefs I have today. My view on documentation and succession are much different than my most of my private sector peers. One maxim that my wife and I do not see eye to eye on, “Early is on time, on time is late, late you have a problem.” Another saying that was often repeated was, “Do your current job well and your next job will take care of itself.”
Today my hair is just as short as when I was in, if not shorter and my shoes are still spit shined. Only my uniform has changed; from blues or BDUs to khakis and polos or slacks and dress shirts.
But what I really wanted to comment on was my career development. My first encounter with the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) was even before I went active duty. When we got our assignments as college seniors mine was to Offutt AFB, Nebraska. As a cyclist I was not pleased to be heading to a station with a 2 month summer, with fall and spring similarly abbreviated. My commanding officer at the detachment asked me if I wanted him to make a call to AFPC on my behalf and see if I get a more amenable station. I declined stating that I didn’t want to start my time in the Air Force fighting the system.
I worked hard hard at Offutt. Not as many hours as I do now, but I learned a great deal. The one big project I handled was the leg work, research and negotiation to settle a $1M lawsuit against the base. Our Colonel had given three of us the project and I was the one that finished the job. The other two lieutenants just didn’t find it interesting.
An aside. I was also given the task to get a squadron t-shirt designed and approved, but I just couldn’t find the time. Someone else finally did it. Now I believe it would have been a good experience because you had to work through all the red tape, but I just didn’t find that appealing.
When it came time for me to change duty stations my commanding officer called me into his office and told me he had made some phone calls and found me a position at the Air Force Logistics Management Agency (AFLMA).
I don’t believe what I did at the AFLMA was outstanding, I ran a website for the Air Force the last couple of years I was in. The website had pretty high visibility and I gave presentations to nearly every full bird Colonel and met privately with every General in my career field. I traveled extensively during this time and gave presentations like I was a salesman.
Another aside. I got married on Saturday and left for Washington, DC Sunday to give a presentation Monday morning at the Pentagon.
When I declared my intention to leave the Air Force the AFPC representative for my career field took me to lunch. He offered to station me anywhere in the world. When I told him my wife was English/South African and we were considering moving to England he offered to double billet me in England. Next he offered me a nice opening in New Zealand where I would be in charge of my own office. I declined them both and ended up in graduate school.
I just figured every Lieutenant and Captain had the same experience I did. You work hard, show initiative and let your mentors steer you through the maze of jobs and promotions. Imagine my surprise when I found that is not the case in the private sector.