I began Air Force ROTC back when Ronald Reagan was still president, the Cold War was beginning to wind down but the Soviet Union was still viewed as our top threat, and Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists were basically a minor sideshow in the grand scheme of things. It was a nice bipolar world. We knew who our friends were, and we knew who our enemies were. Some of the military dictators of what we used to call the Third World should have been our enemies but weren’t, some of the nationalistic but otherwise America-friendly non-aligned or even some communists who were our enemies probably shouldn’t have been. The world wasn’t really as black and white as I like to remember it, but the big picture was the forces of freedom and human rights and free markets facing off against the forces run by the pigs who were more equal than others, with the occassional random aircraft hijacking to call attention to the fact that the Palestinians and other Arabs were annoyed that they kept losing to the Israelis whenever they attacked them. I wanted to be on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. While at age 18 it didn’t really matter whether I was handling an M-16 rifle or an F-16 fighter jet, I wanted to get onto the front lines, if front lines were to ever show up in a Cold War-turned-WWIII. I got to college and tried both Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC, and eventually decided to try my hand at becoming a fighter pilot. I had fun with both organizations, but when I realized the Air Force had little use for a pilot who happened to know how to drive tanks, fire squad-level machine guns, or tie a swiss-seat to rappel from a cliff or cross a river on a rope bridge, I dropped Army ROTC and concentrated on the Air Force courses.
I had a great run in the Air Force and retired in August 2016. I was able to experience a variety of tactical professions. Flying the F-16 was the crown jewel of my Air Force experience; the only “Real-world” mission I flew though ended up being a search for a missing Air Force dependent (it was too cloudy for us to find him and he made his way out of the mountain forest on his own eventually).
The Air Force has a superb leadership training program as well as very robust technical education and experiencing programs. Flight training was second to none, and was the most challenging and rewarding thing I did in my life.
The profession of arms requires us to have great core values; the Air Force’s were “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” These core values require the best out of some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I made some of my best friends in the Air Force. I still regularly seek the advice of several of my former leaders (I almost don’t really view them as ‘Former’ leaders, actually). And I do my best to continue to mentor some of the most talented Airmen, passing on my accumulated wisdom and often passing on the best advice my leaders gave me.
Like most of my friends and mentors, I hated to leave the Air Force. Leaving it meant closing the door on dreams. I still dream once in awhile that I’m strapped into an F-16, flying a training mission somewhere in the world. I awaken both disappointed that it was a dream, but also happy when I think to myself “Yeah! I used to do that!”
I’ve lived my dreams. May you get the chance to live yours, too.