When It doesn’t turn out the way you planned

Yesterday (Sunday, March 12, 2023) was the last day I plan to ever don my uniform in an official capacity. On April 5th, I will retire from the Air Force with a little over 20 years of service: 20 years, 3 months, and 24 days to be exact. It was bittersweet, to say the least. The day was no different, minus the feeling of rolling out the gate at the end of the day. The feeling of never needing to go back was a strange but comforting feeling.

For many things in life, I took the stance to do the absolute minimum required. Only if I was really interested in something did I put in more effort, or at least the net result of the same level of performance was significantly higher when I had a knack or passion for something. In college, I mostly got C’s on everything that was outside of my Computer Science Major. In nearly all my program-required courses, it didn’t take much for me to get A’s and B’s. My average or below-average GPA reflects this reality. Fortunately for me, I was never asked for, and as far as I know, my GPA never came into the equation with regard to employment.

When I enlisted in the SD Air National Guard in December of 2002, at 17 years old, I had every intention of doing more than the minimum, the minimum amount for all retirement benefits, anyway.

The minimum could have been just 6 years. After your second term, you’re over halfway and it would be silly to stop then. To make it worth the time and commitment, you go the full 20 years and hope you can live through the 20+ year gap between separation and the age to begin pulling retirement.

I thought for sure I would be a lifer. I’d be in the uniform until they kicked me out for age or I was injured. That could have meant almost 43 years. It seems a little silly thinking about that now.

At the end of 2021, I had an amazing opportunity to extend my carrier in a role that I had pretty much waited for my entire career. The minimum obligation would have been another 4 years, but it could have meant another 10 or even 20 doing something slightly different. Along with the role came new responsibilities, rank, and training obligations. Training obligations at this point in my life and career were just too much of a commitment. I decided to resign from the opportunity and depart quietly at the end of my current term.

Moral of the story

That whole story is to illustrate how shit happens, and things change. What you might have thought you once wanted can become something completely different at any point in your life. Resigning from that opportunity will always and undoubtedly be the hardest decision of my career. But it was the right decision. Had the opportunity presented itself just one year earlier, the outcome would have been completely different, and I would have been writing about that experience.

Even though it was by far the hardest decision, and (though a pointless exercise) I still consider what the opportunity may have looked like. Even though I did less with my military career than some of my friends, it was a great one. I learned a ton. I built an experience that without question opened so many doors for me in my full-time career, and I truly got to stand on the shoulders of giants through it all. I had some amazing leadership and colleagues, and those relationships are going to be missed.

But that is life. What you think you want or are going to want changes as life changes. Your priorities change. It is important to realize that you could end up doing something you hate or resent.

My family life and having control of my time has become increasingly important to me in the last couple of years. My children are just now coming to the age where those weekend drills would almost always conflict with some other activity. Now I don’t have to worry about being forced to be somewhere else and missing time I’d rather be spending with my wife and kids.

Be thankful for what you have

The reality is, I shouldn’t have even made it this far, and I’m grateful for that.

Before I could even enlist, I had to get a medical waiver because the Air Force didn’t like the fact that I have pins in my foot resulting from a freak accident I had as a teenager. The only way I was able to do that was with a letter to my state representative (John Thune) at the time and the State Adjutant General (TAG) approving and requesting a review.

Beyond that, I wasn’t the most compliant and obedient juvenile. While I wasn’t exactly a delinquent, I didn’t have much respect for authority, was a bit of a class clown, and was really an all-around nuisance in school.

Senior year of high school, those who wanted it could do an apprenticeship in their field of interest. Mine happened to be just before lunch, and the block after lunch was a study hall. So I had about a 3-hour break in the day when I left school to get paid to work. A couple of days a week, I worked at the local telcom, and the other days, I worked at the local boat marina.

On one particular day, I came back to the school, and lined up outside of the principal’s office was about a half-dozen of my friends. One of them came running up to me and asked, “Ross, what did you do? What are we supposed to say? There is a man talking to the principal about you, and we are all supposed to talk to him.”

I still appreciate to this day their willingness to cooperate and corroborate. It’s funny though, that this is how even my friends thought of me at the time. Like I did something really, really stupid, or maybe even “hacked” something I shouldn’t have.

Unbeknownst to even me at the time, the background check/clearance investigator was in town trying to do his investigation on me prior to enlistment. He apparently didn’t want to tip his hat about his presence before getting to ask my peers some hard-hitting questions. Like, would I ever be the type of person to sell government secrets?

I’ll never know what was said in those interviews, but thanks to everyone, I was able to have a long and fulfilling career after all.

Make the most of it

You will never really have any idea what life will be like tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. I realize the goal is to not get too tied up in the idea you have of what things should or would be like.

It’s a strange journey with a lot of ups, downs, and forks on the road.

Just enjoy the ride.

Scroll to Top