My little sister is officially a grown up and officially in the Air Force. She just graduated Air Force Tech School and before that, the 8 grueling weeks of basic training. Her entire family is beaming with pride today as we stare at the picture of her in the neatly tailored dress uniform and blue beret.
People say that the military forces you to grow up and although I have seen many military personnel who will never grow up, I think the statement is true for Erica. It was true for me as well. I understand the feeling of pride and accomplishment, and doing something so rare among your circle of friends who are working as managers in the mall, handling fast food, or don’t know what they’re going to do yet. Wasn’t it only a few years ago we were the same?
During my senior year of high school, the thought never entered my mind, but a year and a half later there I was. In ROTC, and then airborne school, where the military became real to me for the first time. Airborne school was the first experience I had doing the Army thing 24 hours a day. Before that, it was only one class and lab a week. Not to mention, I was 20, naïve, painfully shy, and everything around me scared me. You think I get shy and nervous now? I was a basket case back then. Needless to say I was absolutely terrifiedat the thought of jumping out of airplanes. In addition, it was the first time UNL sent only females to Airborne school that year and I was the first of the 3 to go. Unfortunately, many of the upper class, male cadets made it clear that they hated the idea of me going, claiming it would be “wasted training” (ironic, considering I was the only one who ended up at Ft Bragg to ever use the training). One cadet even said he hoped I broke my leg while I was there. Classy, I know, but it totally got into my head. I was completely psyched out when they told me the horror stories of how difficult the runs were and how many people got sent home because they couldn’t hack the runs. As a result, I over-trained and ran 6 miles, 5 days a week, for several months. While I was in Airborne school, I was probably one of the most cautious, aware, prepared, and attentive soldiers in the entire school.
Of course, now that I’ve made it through and went on to Fort Bragg to continue to jump, I look back at those who said I couldn’t do it, roll my eyes, and think, what a bunch of idiots. It’s too bad that I doubted myself to that extent. I was more afraid of failing a run, or something simple that would keep me from graduation and having to face all my non-believers, than I was afraid of actually jumping out of the airplane. I know thousands of people complete Airborne school every year, but to me, at that time in my life, it was one of the most difficult journeys I ever went through. And because of that, it was one of the proudest moments of my life when I graduated and got my wings pinned on.
Someone’s personal journey can never be judged by anyone else, even if they’ve gone through something similar. Because everyone’s circumstances are different and unique. I know this journey was difficult for Erica. I’m sure I don’t know how difficult, but I can appreciate the struggle, the sadness, the fear, the accomplishment, the courage, and the pride. I hope she, like her family, is beaming with happiness and pride today and takes a moment to realize she is capable of far more than she ever thought possible.
*Top, Erica on graduation day
*Below, my 5th jump at Airborne School