Choosing to stay in Air Force after 20 years

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Albert J. Lewis Jr.
  • 325th Fighter Wing
About six years ago a fellow noncommissioned officer for whom I have a great deal of respect said, "I'm going to retire at 20 years because every day I work after 20 years I'm working for half pay."

My friend was referring to the retirement plan that pays half our basic pay at retirement in some form or fashion. I thought that statement made sense, and since I didn't want to be taken advantage of, I decided I, too, would retire after 20 years of service in the Air Force.

But the closer I came to 20 years, the more unsettled I became with my decision to retire. Each retirement ceremony I attended made me realize that one day I would be forced to say goodbye to the lifestyle I love. Once I acknowledged I really loved the Air Force way of life I wanted to evaluate why I felt this way and justify why I've chosen to stay.

There are many reasons why I have chosen to stay longer than 20 years, but in the interest of time and space, I'll just share three with you.

I've found the Air Force to be a family-friendly organization that provides me a sense of a higher calling while adopting a set of values I'm proud to strive to live up to.

From the top down the Air Force is truly focused on caring for the family. Over the past year I've heard our wing commander say on numerous occasions: "Family is first!" Take care of your family."

I first experienced this early in my career. My wife, Cheryl, and I had just transferred to Europe, and at 2 a.m. in the morning there was a knock at our door. We opened the door to find my first sergeant there to explain how he just received a call from the Red Cross that Cheryl's grandfather had died. The "shirt" told us if we needed assistance getting back to the United States to let him know and he would have airline tickets for us in the morning.

I also recall going on temporary duty assignments at various times in my career and leaving Cheryl at home with our young children. During these times, members of my work center would call or stop by and check on my family, run errands, baby-sit, etc. I'm now preparing for another TDY while I write this article, and I know that in my absence my Air Force family will, as always, take care of my immediate family.

Every day I wake up proud to think I contribute to one of the highest callings known to man - to preserve freedom for the human race. I am empowered with the thought that I am freedom's guardian. Whether I turn a screw on a jet or fix a computer; whether I flip a burger in the dining facility or flip a mattress in lodging; whether I process performance reports or travel vouchers; whether I take control of a vehicle or a classroom, I am a part of the machine that keeps people free. As freedom's guardian, I have a hand in every scientific, medical and technological breakthrough. Although I'm proud of the mission I'm tasked to accomplish, I'm also humbled by the values I'm expected to uphold.

The Air Force Core Values make us the envy of other organizations. I recall the first Airman Leadership School graduation Cheryl attended six years ago when the guest speaker talked about our core values. Our drive home began in silence until I looked at Cheryl and asked what was on her mind. Almost in awe, she said, "Wow - Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do."

It took me three weeks to learn those core values, and Cheryl memorized them after one graduation speech. My wife is a registered nurse and works in the local community, and she said, "If my job adopted this set of values then we would have more motivated workers because everyone would strive for excellence; we would have more satisfied patients because the staff would be more concerned with the service they provide as oppose to their personal desires; and if we all displayed integrity, the staff would have a better working relationship because we would trust one another."

For the first time I saw our Air Force Core Values in the light they were meant to be seen. I've always known them, but I never really stopped to notice them. That night the Air Force Core Values became a part of both Cheryl and me.

Our Air Force is a family-friendly organization that provides a higher calling to its members and advocates a system of beliefs that I'm proud to call my own. A wise man once said, "Love what you do for a living and you'll never have to work a day in your life." I still love what I do for a living.