How my Air Force career in guided missiles became a launchpad for the rest of my life.
A Free College Program...the GI Bill
I feel that joining the Air Force and the training and experiences that it provided were the forces that redirected and set my life in motion.
I joined the Air Force a couple of weeks before my 20th birthday, spending my 20th birthday at Lackland Air Force Base while completing basic training. I had attended a very good high school for prepping students for college; however, no one in my family had ever gone to college, other than a paternal uncle who spent two years in college during World War II as part of his Army Air Corps service. Having no role model, I had no real idea about how to go to college and having grown up in a broken home with a very low-level income, money was a real issue. I had worked for the A&P food store chain since turning 16 and moved over to a smaller grocery chain named W. W. Wilt's about a year before joining the Air Force. Following the Cuban missile crisis, I decided that joining the Air Force was the right thing to do.
Since the Air Force commitment was four years in duration, I had an opportunity to gain significant knowledge about electronics, missile guidance systems, maintenance of systems, along with personal development and self-control. I learned to follow orders and to give orders along the chain of command. Also, very importantly, the Base Education Office helped me get started with my college education. During a six-month TDY at Orlando Air Force Base, I successfully completed all portions of the old college-level GED tests, the predecessor to the popular CLEP tests used today, and I enrolled in my first college class at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. The combination of training I received and the GEDs earned credit for about a year and a half of college. My Air Force training and experience allowed me to begin a 30-year career with IBM; toward the end of my IBM days, I completed a dual Master’s degree at Webster University, which led to my secondary career in higher education. I worked as a Department Chair for the College of IS&T with the University of Phoenix and went on to complete an MBA in Management Information Systems at Northcentral University. Now retired, I continue to teach college classes, both online and local classroom…it's a truly awesome part-time job for retirees. Additionally, I had the experience of traveling to multiple locations in the US and spending an extended tour of duty in the Far East. Certainly, the most significant occurrence during my Air Force tour was meeting and marrying my wife of the past 50+ years, without her, life would not be the same. This has to go down as probably the most significant occurrence in my life.
There is a great deal of commentary about providing free college for everyone, I see the military service as a way to "earn" a free college program thru the GI Bill by completing three years of service to our country. I qualified but did not use my GI Bill for college, IBM paid for that, including Master's degrees. I used mine for flight training, earning a commercial pilot's license with instrument and multi-engine certifications.
I firmly believe that my life would have been significantly different, with a much less successful outcome, had I not made the decision to join the Air Force. It's a bit ironic that I worked with guided missiles during my tour and I now look back on the Air Force experience as the launching pad for the remainder of my life.
At this point in my life, I am probably much more aware of, and appreciative of, the benefits received through my commitment to the US military. I proudly wear my Air Force Veteran cap, adorned with symbols and insignia of my Air Force career path. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with several other "vintage airmen" on a project to rescue an old Mace cruise missile which had stood guard in front of the Wildwood, Florida, American Legion Post for over 20 years. It has been relocated to its new home at the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, Indiana, and has been restored for permanent display. I wrote another HubPages article on that topic. While I understand and appreciate the concerns that many have with serving in the military, its inherent risks and dangers including PTSD and possible death, my personal experience with the Air Force turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.