Leaving Lieutenancy: Reflecting on Junior Military Officer Life

On May 23, 2022, I will promote to the rank of Captain in the United States Air Force. This promotion will effectively take place four years since my classmates and I graduated from the Air Force Academy, a military university in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Although I do not expect my general responsibilities at work to change, or even my duty title, I am looking forward to the pay bump (never a bad thing) and leaving lieutenancy. Plus, I'm hoping to avoid much of the fanfare surrounding promotion ceremonies because of COVID-19 and the general truism surrounding hosting anything which requires significant coordination for a short moment in time.

That said, I am interested and excited to reflect on my journey thus far. In the back of my mind, I understand that this new rank will be the highest I achieve before separating from Active Duty to attend law school. (Unless, of course, circumstances change). Also, there is a beauty in life when we mark our progress and show appreciation for all that we have, or use frustrations to become better and choose better—if that makes any sense.

Specifically, in this post, I would like to reflect on my time as a junior military officer, explain my journey, and provide some commentary (and perhaps wisdom) to anyone curious about military life from an insider's perspective.

May 2018—Graduation Day at the U.S. Air Force Academy

While most people have fond college memories, my experience at the Air Force Academy was as promised. My time there was beyond challenging: from Saturday A.M. Inspections and military training events to six classes a semester and shining shoes at midnight. That environment demanded every ounce of resilience in my body, mind, and soul to stay and succeed in school.

When graduation day finally rolled around, and I threw my parade cap into the air as the Thunderbirds roared overhead, I felt immensely relieved. Graduation felt like an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders, and I could finally relax. Perhaps I felt this way because I was part of an exclusive club, the Centurions, cadets who amassed over 100 demerits during their time in school. For the most part, the more demerits you had, the more fun you were, but that's a separate story for another time and place and post!! (Be on the lookout for a 'Thirsty Thirteen' story)
Photo of myself telling the row to stand up on graduation day. | PC: The Gazette

June & July 2018—Sixty Days of Paid Vacation!!

After graduation, Cadets at the Air Force Academy get sixty days of paid vacation! The paid time off is accrued over the four years of military training as authorized by Congress. For many, sixty days is the perfect time to explore the world, and that's what a lot of my friends did. Many who have never been out of the country saw sixty days as a prime moment to jet over to Europe to explore castles in Germany, pubs in Ireland, and bike across Luxembourg.
My good friend and I on the Capitol Hill Rotunda. | PC: A random stranger
But I did something different. For various reasons, I decided to split my sixty days interning for Sen. Lamar Alexander's Nashville Office in Tennessee and Sen. Bob Corker's Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington D.C. For me, gaining insight into how constituent services operate and seeing how foreign policy is crafted at the highest level was far more rewarding than anything else.

Here are two highlights:

1) In Nashville, I learned how NARCAN, an opioid treatment spray, is distributed through churches. The rationale for this distribution is because in the South, in Tennessee specifically, even opioid addicts attend religious services due to the way social relationships operate down there.
2) On Capitol Hill, I witnessed the National Defense Authorization Act crafted behind the scenes with two senior Hill staffers—one from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the other from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. For those unfamiliar, the National Defense Authorization Act is a curated list of how the Pentagon spent money over that following year.

August 2018 to May 2019—Living in Mississippi While Waiting for a Pilot Slot

After my two internships ended, I drove down from Washington D.C. to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. On the ride down, one of my former girlfriends and I broke up, and, as a result, I got pulled over by a cop for speeding, a funny story now but less so then. To be fair, the area is a speed trap that went from 65 miles per hour down to 40 in a two-hundred-foot stretch. Apparently, these speed traps are somewhat common in the south, especially on the road between Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Columbus, Mississippi.

When I arrived at the base, I was excited to start pilot training. But my start date kept getting pushed back. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. As time stretched, I felt uninspired and listless. While I waited for my chance to start pilot training, the student flight squadron allowed me to stay on casual status (a seemingly fun but actually boring time in which your days are filled with tedium, monotony, and nothingness). While on casual, student pilots hold odd jobs that are Keynesian. It would have been more productive had I shoveled out dirt to create a hole then put it back into the hole.

But the entire time wasn't all bad. I did attend Initial Flight Training in Pueblo, Colorado, and had the opportunity to fly solo in a small two-seat aircraft. But, despite some of the fun and satisfaction I had from flying, I increasingly found myself enjoying the non-flying aspects more. So, given the circumstances, I decided to leave pilot training and all its trappings. On to the next!

June 2019 to April 2021—Transferring to a New Career Field: Acquisitions

Upon resigning from my Air Force pilot slot, I had to undergo a board that determined to keep me as an officer. Although this may sound like a big deal, it was more a near-automatic stamp of approval rather than this high-stress discriminator that would've prevented me from serving. To elaborate further, you have to look at the issue of a pilot-student resigning from the big Air Force's perspective—the federal government paid for this person's education over the last four years and they will want their pound of flesh (the five-year commitment) back at a minimum.

After the board reviewed my application, I was re-assigned to the Acquisitions career field and given a three-year assignment to Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Since I had spent ten months in Mississippi, I still had a four-year-and-two-month Active Duty Service Commitment left. (Side note: Later, I figured out how to turn my three-year assignment into a four-year assignment which will line up perfectly with when I separate for law school next summer).

Plus, I began to explore what I was genuinely interested in for the first time in a near-decade. Instead of focusing on what would get me into a great college and what the best jobs were after college, I wanted to find what made me happy and satisfied. Slowly, I re-discovered that writing is a great joy of mine, and so is my desire to learn the law.

Also, in this time, I deployed overseas to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. There, I worked on the Combat Operations floor at the Combined Air Operations Center and actively managed the air war in CENTCOM. Further, I deployed over the same time as the January 6, 2021, riots. In particular, what I witnessed on France 24, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News further cemented my desire to go to law school and give back to my community in some way (whether that is in private practice or in the public sector).

May 2021 to June 2021—Back on American Soil... Thank God

The best part about deploying is redeploying. (Wut?) Yes, I know it can sound weird or strange, but redeploying means coming home to America. For whatever reason, when we left Al Udeid Air Base, I was lucky that our plane passed through Reagan National Airport.

For those unaware, Reagan National is a Washington D.C. airport. It is also conveniently located close to my parent's home. So, unlike others who had to hop on another plane ride to get home, I was lucky enough to see my parents and girlfriend soon after I arrived.

As anyone can imagine, seeing people you care for after a period of separation is a great feeling. Also, as I mentioned before, I worked every day for seven months on my deployment. That meant I had little time to do anything else. So, getting to spend a few days down in D.C. was something I will cherish for a long time.

Also, I made some great friends on my deployment. So, if you're in a non-rated career field or feel like things are kind of slow in the unit you're attached to back home in America, I highly recommend deploying. It's good to feel like what you are doing is important and that satisfaction lasts.

Forever, I'll be thankful that I deployed when I did—despite how difficult leaving my girlfriend was and family behind. But, although your life goes on pause and theirs doesn't, that also doesn't mean the experience can't be decent for everyone involved.

July 2021 to May 2022—Changing Job Assignments in Acquisitions

Following a few weeks of post-deployment leave, I completed my assignment in the Aerial Networks Division, and it was time for a new job. Since I had previously opted for a Permanent Change of Assignment, called a PCA. When someone PCAs in the Air Force, they incur a two-year commitment. So, the math worked out perfectly where I would hit the five-year mark (my total active duty service commitment) in my new job with the Battle Management Division.

While I cannot go into the specific details of my new job, in an overview, my current job relates to merging two sustainment contracts into one. For the government, the thinking is this approach will cut down on costs—a common practice in all governments that try to increase efficiencies each year. Plus, I will say that the people in my new unit are fantastic. I've enjoyed working with them all immensely and consider this unit a much better cultural fit.
Side Note One: PCA vs. PCS. A PCA is a Permanent Change of Assignment, and a PCS is a Permanent Change of Station. When you PCA, the individual service member is choosing to stay for two more years (and make their assignment a total of four years... with two years in one unit, and two years with the other).

Side Note Two: Leave is the military's term for Paid Time Off. Generally, it works the same way

June 2022 and Beyond—Deciding to Follow My Dream

Truthfully, I've always found solace in writing for as long as I can remember. Like others, writing is a cathartic tool to help express unexamined emotions. But this aside, writing is pretty fantastic because it is a form of telepathy. Somehow, a string of words and letters creates phrases that have meaning. Then, when the writing is constructed well enough, a reader can parse these random symbols on paper or a screen and know what the author means.

For centuries, since adopting a written lexicon, people have transferred lived experiences, scientific results, and pleasures from one to another. There is simply nothing like it in this world. Plus, other mediums, such as film, do not cause the watcher to retain information to the same level of rigor as reading and writing. Hopefully, this explanation accounts for my fascination with writing.
But, even though I love writing and hope to share my stories with everyone (provided they are written well), I have listened and read a large amount of content that explains why writing full time is not what you think it could be (a.k.a. splashing cold water on the dream).

Alexa Donne, a YouTuber, and traditionally published author, likely championed this viewpoint best in her video. In it, she discusses practical reasons, such as a lack of health insurance and the requirement to write prolifically and make back your advances (or at least get close), which could be major drawbacks to this idolized dream. So, while I continue to hone my craft writing, I plan to complement and overlap my writing interest with the desire to become an attorney. Mainly, I'm looking forward to law school!

Over the next year-and-a-half, I plan to serve the Air Force to the best ability that I can. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that I have no future in the Air Force, I would say that four years of undergrad and five years of Active Duty service is enough military time for me.

So, in an effort to stay busy outside of work hours, I am writing and editing all the time. Recently, I submitted my first short story called G.I. Jihad for MilitaryExperiences.Org, am an editorial intern for The National Interest, an assistant non-fiction editor for Columbia University's the Line Literary Journal and tons of other stuff! (Yes, I stand by using the word "stuff" because it hits across way too many categories.)

For me, law school is an excellent opportunity to remain involved in the community. It's my chance to make a difference in the public or private sector as an attorney, and I'm looking forward to leaving professional school with a real trade. That's something that I felt the military didn't adequately equip me with (although it arguably isn't the institution's fault for this because if I had become a pilot, that would've been a marketable skill).

Basically, over the next year, I'm looking forward to the following:
1. Writing & publishing my own words on other reputable websites or magazines
2. Get engaged to my long-time girlfriend
3. Improve my LSAT (if time permits) from 93% to a 95%+
4. Get into law school!!! Also, I'd be super appreciative if I could receive any grant money / financial aid.
5. Make the most of my last year in the military (do a good job at work and make some friends)

That's it! If you have any questions for me, don't hesitate to reach out or leave a comment.
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