Shaking it up: Air Force special duties offer growth

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Pamela Hagman
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over and expecting a different result. Like many, I joined the U.S. Air Force because I was doing the same thing day after day without result.

I was 24 and the money for school had dried up. Work wasn't going anywhere. I saw the same people in the same places, week in and week out. In short, I needed to shake the frustration of sameness and stagnation. So I joined the military, and after nine years as a photographer, I left my career field to instruct at Airman Leadership School.

I like to shake things up from time to time.

On occasion, everyone complains about their job. Others crave challenges. Even the most "ate up" of Airmen have been known to complain about the Air Force, how their recruiter "lied to them," or has expressed some form of disdain or apathy about their job at one time or another.

Maybe that frustration is good. It shows we actually care. Too much of it though can signal a problem.

The Enlisted Force Structure, Section 4.1.15 says that noncommissioned officers should, "Pursue opportunities and encourage subordinates to retrain into Air Force shortage career fields and serve in special duties such as military training and professional military education instructor, and recruiter, when appropriate."

Many Airmen I've counseled were at a loss as to why they should, "throw out a perfectly good Airman," by giving them to another career field. I can honestly say, as a senior noncommissioned officer, with the experience of a special duty assignment under my belt, that we need to create a culture which views these career changes as positive for the Air Force and positive for the Airmen who make the switch.

The Enlisted Force Structure states that such opportunities, "Promote a culture of Airmen who are capable of mastering multiple tasks to better support mission requirements."

I can honestly say, while it was a tremendous challenge to leave my career field for another, I wouldn't change a thing. I left my familiar career field as a staff sergeant and photographer to learn something entirely new. Once I sewed on technical sergeant, a rank where I was supposed to be an expert, I felt like anything but in my new career. The same challenge awaited me as a master sergeant returning from PME to my career field. Public Affairs had replaced Visual Information, and not only was I expected to have the wisdom of a master sergeant, but be proficient in a career I knew very little about as well.

But it all turned out ok. I learned to love being an ALS instructor. The job entailed so much more than I expected -- it was richly rewarding in ways I could never have expected. Mostly though, it grew me as an Airman because I came to realize the impact I could have on making our Air Force a more positive place. I didn't break down when returning to Public Affairs either. It was rocky at first, but I have embraced the change and I love the job, the people and the opportunities it afforded me to grow and to grow others.

Life is short. Change can be scary. Few careers out there afford you the opportunity to do something completely different and never miss a check. The Air Force is unique in that way. It's a place where you can go as far as you want. And it's our job as leaders to help others do the same.

Trying something completely different may seem a little crazy. But doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result...well that's just insane. I can't wait to see what's next.