Why I Applied After 10 Years Active Duty Service

I was interested in obtaining an Air Force commission since I enlisted in 2004.  At the time I actually pursued the AECP program in which if selected you were promoted to SSgt to go to a college of your choosing, enroll in ROTC for 2-3 years, finish your Bachelor's degree, and commission at the end all paid for by the USAF.  I don't really have an answer for why I never applied.  I had to finish my first year of college to apply for the program and once I finished, commissioning just wasn't a priority.  I was probably just happy I made SSgt because that was a large increase in responsibility from SrA, especially in Security Forces. 

It was around that same time I received an assignment to Europe.  That was huge for me because it would be a fresh start at a new base as a brand new NCO.  Once I arrived in Europe I had a new set of job qualifications to do (cops have a lot of training requirements), and this ate up the first year of my assignment.  After that I focused on finishing my degree and again, commissioning just wasn't a priority.  We also had our first child over there so life just got busy and I never applied.  

While in Europe I was picked up for retraining into IT.  IT was my passion at the time so the thought of staying in for a few more years to let the Air Force train me to be a System Administrator (3D0X2) was a no-brainer.  I PCS'd, did the retraining thing, got into my job, and saw a different side of the Air Force.  Instead of standing on a flightline and supporting a mission I rarely saw, I directly supported comm for multiple operations centers and users of a strategic computer system.  I was part of a big mission and it was my first exposure to the operations (Ops) side of the Air Force.  Seeing this world from the inside is actually why I ended up choosing the Space Ops career field.

The down side of the 3D0X2 career field was the level of administrative responsibility I had.  In Security Forces as a SrA I was essentially an NCOIC of several different squadron level programs, and I won MAJCOM awards for how I ran them.  As a Security Forces SSgt I managed the security program for the entire wing while also running several other programs as additional duties.  To contrast, at my comm unit SNCOs ran all of the squadron level programs.  NCOs normally fulfilled flight level pieces of the overall squadron puzzle.  In order for me to even obtain to the administrative responsibility I had as a SrA, I would need to sew on MSgt in comm.  In order to jump beyond where I was at as a SSgt, I would need to make SMSgt in comm.  In short, I felt like the Air Force was holding me back.  My solution was to separate.  I was being recruited by the private sector and DoD contractors, so all I had to do was finish my contract with the AF.  I was prepared to separate at 14 years to do the job I wanted to do and have the level of responsibility I desired.

I considered commissioning again, but there were several things that kept me from pulling the trigger.  The biggest one was the lack of certainty with career field.  Once you commission you are slotted where the Air Force needs you.  If AF needs align with your choices, you might get lucky and get something on your list.  If not, you serve your time in a different field.  This scared me because I liked IT and didn't want to change again.  Another uncertainty was deployments.  I made it ten years without a single deployment.  The longest I was away from my family was comm tech school.  My family is really important to me so the thought of leaving them for six months on, six months off was unbearable; especially since I then had two kids.  Nothing could compensate me enough to agree to that.  Lastly, I liked my location and I really didn't want to move again.  So in my mind that settled it, the only option was to separate.  If I got lucky I could retire at 15 years through TERA (early retirement program), but I was ready to move on from the AF regardless.

This is where I may lose a lot of you, but it is still my story (and my blog) so I'm going to keep it real.  I am a Christian and I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (which hopefully you will see how this works below).  One day about a year after I made up my mind to separate, I went to church and received a message directly from God.  He didn't speak out loud, but I felt it in my heart and knew it was from Him.  His message was simple, apply for OTS.  He told me all of my concerns were non issues and His purpose for my life was to become an officer in the USAF.  He told me I would be able to reach and influence people in a way no-one else could, and this is why he placed me here on Earth.  I didn't want to listen.  My mind was made up and another career in the AF was not part of my plan, but I knew I didn't really have a choice.  Deep down I knew commissioning would be a better choice, and I actually had a sense of peace with the situation because God told me I didn't need to worry about the three issues I identified above.  This would be the first time in my life where God clearly asked me to choose between my will or His.  My decision would very clearly define my priorities, and in my opinion it would also define my path for the rest of my life.  So in the end I chose to obey God's direction and apply for OTS.  This is why I tell people I applied for OTS against my will.  If I had followed my will, I would be preparing for separation right now.  By following His, I was selected for OTS after my first time applying.  It is amazing to watch God's plan unfold in my life.  It doesn't always make sense at the time, but later in life I can look back and see how certain decisions or the path I was on fit into a bigger picture. 

After I made my decision, I began the application process and it went extremely smooth.  I met with my commander to state my intentions and received full support from my entire chain of command.  I wish I could adequately explain how amazing it was that the application came together as easy as it did.  The timing was perfect.  People I worked with in the past came out of nowhere and helped me with different aspects of the application.  My personal statement lacked the perspective it needed and was written at the high school level.  A week before the application deadline a Lieutenant I used to work with breathed life into what I was trying to say and helped me raise my writing to the college level.  My applicant profile didn't adequately explain the earlier half of my career.  One of my previous commanders called my cell phone the day before submission and helped me frame the impact of my actions early in my career, even though that was well before he knew me.  I was then able to convey the strategic-level impact of my actions through the bullets on my applicant profile.  It was incredible.  It was personal confirmation in my heart that I was indeed doing what I was supposed to do.

The last decision I had to make were my five AFSC preferences.  At first I was going to stay with IT so I chose Cyber.  From there it was a matter of removing what I didn't want to do.  I wasn't excited about rejoining Security Forces, and I wanted to avoid maintenance and flight line jobs, so that basically left Intel and the financial field.  My college and degree is not ABET accredited and my coursework was not heavy in math and science, so that removed the engineering and science fields.  I decided on Cyber, Intel, Contracting, Acquisitions, and Finance in that order.  I really didn't want the latter three because I really didn't want to know where the government's money goes, and I am not a money person.  Toward the end of the application process, I began to reconsider my options.  Like I said my job supports the Ops world so I began to wonder if that was something I wanted to do.  I reviewed the degree requirements for 13S and technically I didn't qualify, but the idea never went away.  I thought about it for several months.

To fill in some back story, my son is absolutely obsessed with space.  It all started with a book we read him when he was one called On the Moon.  The book is a great book, it tells the story of Apollo 11 astronauts landing on the moon.  From there for my son it evolved into rockets, space shuttles, the moon, astronauts, and the international space station.  From the age of three he could name the nomenclature of the Saturn V and Apollo space vehicles, and recognize Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins' from there mission photo.  As I began to realize how "into it" he actually was, I continued processing my AFSC options.  I started asking questions and learned about every aspect of the 13S field.  I learned about Air Force Space Command and how they maintain the overall satellite constellations, and how they prevent collisions in space.  I also learned the Air Force still plays a role in the spacelift programs at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.  The more I learned, the more I wanted in.  I realized life as a cyber officer was not the life I wanted like I thought it was.  I also realized my prior experience with Command and Control of Security Forces troops combined with my technical experience in comm, especially when considering my exposure to the Ops world, fit perfectly into the 13S career field. 

The only minor problem I had was technically my degree did not meet the STEM requirements (at the time) for the 13S career field.  Regardless, Space Ops became my number one choice, I incorporated my desire to become a space officer in my personal statement, and I concluded AFPC didn't firmly enforce the STEM requirement.  In the end I was selected for 13S and they removed the STEM requirement a month or so after results were released.

I spoke in detail about the rest of the application process for me in other posts, so I won't expand on that here.  What I will say is seeing my entire record on paper helped me see how all of the different events in my life and career truly culminated at submitting an application for OTS and becoming an officer.  I believe we are all part of a bigger picture and it is our job to discover how we fit, and what our true purpose is here on Earth.  I also believe part of my role now is to help you to discover your own personal role, and if it is to become an officer through OTS, to help you fulfill it.  I wish everyone the best of luck and hope you find something useful in this blog.