Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Two years ago today, I commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force. By this point in my life, I realize that this was the wrong decision. The military lifestyle is not suited for my natural abilities and aptitudes, and I feel that I am doing the nation a disservice by being here and consuming taxpayer dollars.

I bear half the responsibility for this situation, by not realizing sooner that this life was not suitable for me. I had inklings of this long before I commissioned; I never felt like I fit in with the other cadets. At the same time, I had friends who genuinely cared about me and genuinely thought I could do some good if I stuck with it. Yet I didn't have any mentors to tell me that if I really wanted to be a good engineer (as opposed to being a manager,) I should forget about commissioning in the Air Force, spend my free time learning the computer and machine shop skills I'd need to thrive in the industry, and work on internships during my summers. Then again, I probably wouldn't have had the patience or drive to do any of those things, either.

At the same time, the Air Force has to examine itself and ask how they can let such poor cadets pass through the cracks in the system to get their commissions. The "Kinder, gentler" Air Force is more reluctant to give cadets the boot, although that has changed recently as a result of force-shaping. I don't think the Air Force is very forthcoming in presenting a realistic picture of what the acquisition career fields look like when cadets are going through their training. And for cadets who are on scholarship, the Air Force only grants them one year to change course and leave the ROTC program before the threat of recouping scholarship money comes into play.

I may seem like a dead-ender, but I'm still motivated by the fact that my reputation is tied to my work. If my program is delayed because of something I did (or failed to do,) that weighs very heavily on my conscience. In the end, when beauty and material wealth have escaped us, all we have is our reputations.

Based on listening to me rant, one might get the impression that I was only in this for the scholarship money. While the money was nice, I can honestly say that I used to believe in what I was doing. That changed after about six months on active duty. I realized that my aptitudes were being wasted, and that I'd make a more valuable contribution to society in a different capacity. I don't think that the system ever made an effort to understand me. As much as I tried, I never seemed to understand the system, either.

My hope is that I can serve out the last two years of my commitment without getting my nose any dirtier, and without giving the Air Force an excuse to make me pay my scholarship back. Hopefully I can emerge from this experience a little wiser, and with a little more clarity on what I should be doing with my life.

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