What it means to be a first-term Airman

MOUNAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (ACCNS) -- (Editor's Note: All members of each First Term Airman's Center class write a commentary entitled, "What it means to be a first-term Airman." The FTAC instructors select the best commentary, and the writer receives the "Gunfighter Pride" award. The following is the most recent selection.)

Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. These are all elements to being an ideal Airman. However, there is a lot more to being a first-term Airman than these core values.

As a young Airman, there is a lot of pressure to try and hold true to the integrity and beliefs instilled by the warriors before us. Being a new Airman in the operational community, I look to my superiors to lead the way. After 17 months in my technical school, I'm excited to finally join my predecessors in the fight against oppression and tyranny.

Having many months of waiting for the chance to finally become part of the Air Force family, I had time to think of what this means to me. Being a first-time Airman means getting the chance to learn from those who came before me.

My journey to becoming an Airman started June 8, 2006. This was the day I first gave my oath to defend our country and join something larger than myself. I was motivated to join for many reasons. One of which was the decision to do something with my life. As many before me have come to realize, in the civilian world there are many hardships and instabilities. I was a 21-year-old college dropout working more than my share of hours at a mall jewelry store. To be trite, I was on the fast track to nowhere. After much contemplation and discussion with my family, I decided that joining the service was the best way to start over. At that point in my life, I was looking at the proposition of marriage with my girlfriend. That in itself was enough to make me strive for financial stability as well as benefits I would not have been able to provide on my own.

As a young Airman, I still have much to learn, but one thing the Air Force has already taught me is that "service before self" means more than military service first. It means making sure my family and friends are safe. I have taken an opportunity and made it a reality. Less than one percent of Americans will join any type of military service, especially during a time of war. But any risk that this may entitle is outweighed by the fact that I now have a stable job to provide for my family. Even while in a deployed environment, my wife will still have the same stable income as well as help from other Air Force members to get through the hardships. At first, I truly believed I was joining a job, but I later came to realize that it much more resembles a family.

After many drafts and reflections of this essay, I have been able to get a better look at the way I view my new life. Little did I know how hard I was living, but now I have nothing to fear. With the help of friends, family and the Air Force, my once feeble life is now poised and set toward success. What does being a first-term Airman mean to me? It means finally being proud of where I am in my life and being able to stand tall. It means finally having a future I can be hopeful for and truly expect.