Belonging--an Air Force journey

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Belonging--the one thing that had eluded me for so many years.

I grew up your typical southern girl; raised by great parents, loving God and country, the whole nine yards. It was my parents that provided me with the foundation for my life. They taught me to always be respectful to those in authority over me, say "sir" or "ma'am" when needed, tell the truth, honor my family, behave, perform to the best of my ability at whatever I do, be kind, and be happy. 

I had lived in South Carolina for 24 years. Twenty-four years of seeing the same sights, same people, same everything. Granted, I loved the people I saw every day, but I felt that I just hadn't seen all the world had to offer. 

When I was younger, I was just concerned about my immediate world; family, friends and faith. My elementary and junior high school years were my glory years. I never realized how great I had it as a child. Free to frolic about without a care in the world. No bills to pay, no deadlines to meet, and hanging out with friends. Those were the days.

Then came high school; perhaps the most challenging and frightening aspect for any young adult. Like many fellow classmates, I struggled with belonging, but not for long. I joined my school's Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit and formed many friendships where I eventually achieved the position of Cadet Group Commander, the highest position the program had to offer its participants. I felt like I finally belonged to something great. Alas, all great things come to an end, as does high school.

I received a scholarship to attend college and earned my Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Child Advocacy. I dreamed of being able to help the lives of others and being someone that they could talk to when they needed a good listener, but reality had different plans for me. There were no jobs for me. Like countless others out in the world experiencing the same difficulties, I began to join their ranks. Months of not hearing back from interviews. It eventually hits you. Hopelessness, despair, anxiety, sadness and failure. You begin to think that you don't have what it takes to get a job.

It takes a lot to get you through times where you feel that you have no hope. If it had not been for my family, friends and faith, I don't know how I could have made it through that point in my life. I went for one year without having any job prospects. One year of my life spent waiting to hear back from somebody; anybody. The only job I could find was part-time at a friend's thrift store.

Just when I was beginning to lose hope about finding a steady job; one day, my mom told me that she had seen my master sergeant from AFJROTC. I honestly believe that it was divine intervention that she saw him. She had told him about the difficulties I was going through and he had a response. An Air Force recruiter was coming to speak to his class and he told her that I would be more than welcome to attend.

I went to that recruiter and began my journey of finding a place where I belonged.

This began my process of becoming part of something bigger and greater than myself - the United States Air Force.

Throughout my process of entering the USAF, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions: fear, happiness, excitement, anticipation and suspense. The Military Entrance Processing Station was quite a fearsome task but nothing in comparison to basic training.

As soon as I arrived at Lackland Air Force Base and was greeted by screaming military training instructors, there was only one thought that was going through my mind: what have I done? I was so scared. I didn't want to go home because I knew that a jobless situation would be awaiting me.  I had to make it through basic.

It was here that I learned that your flight members eventually become your family as you are away from your own.

My training went through all of the major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Many of our flight members, including myself, missed their families back home so much. This was one thing that brought us together. Being a flight full of women we did not always get along, but we did what was necessary to get through basic.

Another thing that made me feel like I was a part of a family was when I got screamed at by an MTI, for about ten minutes, yes ten minutes! My flight of sisters surrounded me and asked if I was "okay," just like my brother used to do when we were younger and I was in trouble. For me that was the point where I felt like I belonged with my flight. I finally felt like I had an extended family apart from my own. I only have an older brother; I do not have a sister, so I was able to experience what it is like to have sisters.

It was this sense of family that got me through my time in basic. I knew that I could go to one of my fellow flight members for help if and when I needed it.

The one defining moment that made me feel like I was on my way to belonging in the Air Force was my last day in Beast Week, which tested everything we learned in basic in a simulated deployed environment. My flight had worked as hard as we could to be top performers that week. When we were finishing up the week we were presented with our dog tags. This was my moment. As we were presented the dog tags, Toby Keith's song: Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue was playing over the speakers and an American flag was hanging up in front of us, illuminated by the sun. This was the only time in basic where I had to hold back tears of happiness and pride. It had been a long time since I had felt so ecstatic about something I had accomplished.

What I felt at Beast Week was nothing compared to what I felt around graduation. I will never forget the day before graduation where I received my Airman's coin. The day of the coin ceremony was quite frigid. It felt like it was 10 degrees. My body was so cold, even shaking, but my heart most definitely was not. It was quite warm and close to bursting with excitement. It also helped knowing that my parents would be there watching and waiting to see me after a grueling eight-and-a-half weeks.

When I was presented with my Airman's coin that was my defining moment of feeling like I finally belonged in the Air Force. I felt like I had a bright career ahead of me. My heart was overwhelmed with pride and again I was fighting back tears of happiness. Finally, I found the place where I belonged.

My journey in the Air Force has only begun. I am doing a job that I enjoy and am still learning. I am just a young Airman with an eager heart and open mind waiting to see what is in store for me as I continue this journey.  I have learned so much as I have started this journey. I have learned that you can get through hard times and that the world has so much to offer.

The Air Force has finally filled that void in my life of finding where I belong.