My Last Article

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Olszewski
  • 11th Mission Supports Squadron first sergeant
One score and seven years ago (that's 27 years to you and I) I became a member of the greatest Air Force the world has ever known. Unlike some, I wasn't predestined to join the military; my father or my grandfather didn't leave me with that legacy.

We all have our reasons for serving. Some serve because it's a family tradition, others feel it's their patriotic duty, and still others want to raise money for college. Similarly, many of us take our Air Force experience and move on to civilian life after four, six or 10 years, while others stay on for 20 years and beyond.

I'd like to share my reasons for enlisting in the Air force and, why I chose to stay blue all these years. I'll close with some words of wisdom for our next generation of enlisted leaders as they move forward in their Air Force careers.

I grew up in South Florida, graduated high school and went on to attend a community college while I figured out what I was going to do with my life. Almost two years came and went and still nothing significant had changed. I was still living with my parents, still hanging around with the same people, getting into the same trouble, doing the same things, not moving forward. As fate would have it, there was an Army, Navy and Air Force recruiting office next to my college's campus.

By chance the Air Force recruiter was outside his office one day as I walked past. Our brief discussion outside the office moved indoors and before I knew it I had signed up for four years with a direct duty assignment to McClelland Air Force Base, Calif., to be a graphics artist. I arrived at Lackland AFB, Texas, in November 1980, spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year in Basic Military Training School. I was thinking I could have timed this better. Toward the end of training I remember the day we waited for the military training instructor to give us our orders for our first assignment. The MTI called my name and a couple of other Airmen and told us to stand off to the side (this couldn't be good).

As luck would have it, my direct duty assignment had been canceled, and I had been reassigned as a ground radio electronics technician and was headed for Keesler AFB, Miss. Oh great, electronics is kind of artistic, right? The funny thing was that , two years prior I dropped out of electronics trade school. The two weeks I spent training there boosted my armed services vocational aptitude battery scores off the charts in electronics.

As I mentioned previously, I had no ties to the Air Force, so I wouldn't have bet a dime that I would stay in for just over 27 years! In fact, I was already preparing to get out of Dodge before my first enlistment was complete. I, like many other first-term Airmen, had a supervisor or two that I just couldn't seem to please or get along with -- or was I just a problem Airman?

It's really hard to remember, it was a long time ago, and the memory of all those events is a little fuzzy. As I look back, I have to be honest with myself: I wasn't a model Airman and those supervisors that I couldn't stand were just trying to teach me to accept responsibility.

It's kind of comical, but I met up with one of those supervisors that I didn't get along with 10 years later, except he was a master sergeant and I was a technical sergeant and we laughed at how cocky I was back then. I thanked him for helping me understand the error of my ways.

So why did I end up staying in so long? I re-enlisted the first time because I fell in love and got married. So you're saying, "Why in the world would that make a difference"? At this point in my life I had a guaranteed job, a place to live and money for the necessities of life. I needed to keep these things to provide for my new bride. I was responsible for someone other then myself, the year was 1986, and I would make the same decision to stay again in 1990.

I had grown up as an electronics technician, a "combat communicator" for the majority of my career. We trained to setup communications in faraway places during times of conflict. It wasn't until the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in August 1990 that I actually had a chance to put my training to use; I re-enlisted just before I deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations "Desert Shield/Desert Storm."

Through hard work and determination I received a line number for master sergeant in 1994, which meant that I needed to acquire the retainability to become a senior noncommissioned officer. I had made it to the Top III, and there was no way I was going to turn that down. I would make the decision to re-enlist three more times during my career and there was always a good reason, a special milestone; with each success my motivation to stay was strengthened.

For those that will continue to make the Air Force their career; I will leave you with these pearls of wisdom:
· Seek out people that you respect and trust and learn from them; good mentors are a precious commodity. Treasure their knowledge and experience.
· Don't take the easy path; actively search for problems in your organization, because those problems will be your opportunities.
· Always work on making yourself a better person; become an expert in your field, work on a college degree or grow spiritually through your church or chapel. It's never too late to work on self-improvement.
· Make time to recognize your people. A simple pat on the back or a kind word spoken at the appropriate moment will pay huge dividends.
· Consistently correct your people on the spot when they are not meeting standards. Your good Airmen will thank you and poor performers will, nine times out of 10, raise their performance to the standard.
· Remember where you came from and how you got there; give advice when asked, help when needed, counsel as required, praise when deserved.

It has been my honor to have worked with some of the best and brightest men and women during one of the most turbulent times in our country's history. I may not wear the uniform of the Air Force in the very near future, but I will most certainly always be a member of the Air Force.

According to Milton Berle, "I'd rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are; because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star. I'd rather be a has-been than a might-have-been, by far; for a might have-been has never been, but a has was once an are."