By Airman 1st Class Joshua R. M. Dewberry , 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 15, 2014
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
In my time spent serving my country, I've learned something very important. Being in the Air Force is not the same as being an Airman.
I didn't really understand what that meant at first, but I have my own thoughts on this key difference.
Being in the Air Force, to me at least, means that you wear the uniform, have a rank and follow orders.
Being an Airman is something more. Being an Airman means embodying the core values, having strong morals and exceeding the standards.
I'm not going to lie and say that the Air Force has taught me what values and morals are, because let's be honest, if my recruiter didn't think I was already a moral person with personal values, I wouldn't be here telling this story.
I will admit, however, that the Air Force did teach me what core values like "service before self" truly mean and how to conform to standards. I ultimately learned how to meet the standards so that I could eventually surpass them.
I'm an Airman and this is my story.
Before I enlisted, I was living paycheck to paycheck, could not afford to live on my own and felt like I had no future. Today, I have a career I'm good at, skills I can take anywhere in the world and a future I can look forward to.
My life before the military wasn't horrible, but it was far from where I wanted to be. I struggled to pay my bills every month, even though I had two jobs that I worked six days a week. I relied on my parents for support, both financially and emotionally.
I can remember thinking how I was just another guy with no prospects in life. I wasn't finished with college yet and I knew I could potentially lose my minimum-wage jobs at any moment.
I needed a big change and nothing I was doing was working. So, I decided to do what my father did before me: put on the uniform. This was my first step to joining the Air Force and one day becoming an Airman.
I spent almost a year of meetings with my recruiter, getting waivers approved, going to the military entrance processing station four times for different reasons and filling out stacks of paperwork.
I have never wanted to change the direction of my life so badly before. I was willing to wait as long as it took. All that mattered to me was turning my fortunes around and just getting through my training. That's how much it meant to me to become an Airman.
I thought getting through my basic and technical training would be tough, but I had no idea just how stressful it would be. Basic training was easily the most nerve-racking experience of my life.
"Every day is a new chance to start fresh, this can't get much worse," I kept telling myself. My military training instructor thought otherwise. He thought every day was another chance to remind me what Texas dirt taste like.
Being under constant pressure, stress and observation was mentally taxing. I felt like I was in prison. I never again want to hear the words, "trainee" or "proceeding, sir."
I never did appreciate always being screamed at, even when I didn't do anything wrong. I was never allowed to go anywhere alone. However, I realize it was never about what I did right, because it was never about me as an individual. I just kept telling myself, "This is only temporary."
I learned two key messages that got pounded into my head every day. Whether I was cleaning floors, folding socks or walking through a simulated war zone; "attention to detail" and "the Air Force is a team environment."
I have never felt more patriotic than when I graduated from basic training and the base commander announced over the loud speaker to all the graduates, "Welcome to the Air Force." All the blood, sweat and tears I put into those eight and a half weeks finally paid off.
Even though I was anxious to get out of San Antonio, I appreciate the lessons I learned in humility and perseverance while I was there.
I couldn't be happier than when I finally got out of what felt like at the time to be the boot camp from hell. I thought, "Finally, I'm in the Air Force. After tech school, I'll be a true Airman.
Soon after that, I found out that tech school was nothing like basic. This part of my life was months of early morning physical training, hours of study each week and devoting myself to learning my craft as a public affairs specialist, or simply put, a photojournalist.
Basic training and tech school were like night and day. In basic training, I was just another "trainee" who was learning how to be in the Air Force.
I was constantly being screamed at and was broken down as an individual so I could be molded into some semblance of an "Airman."
In tech school, I was an "Airman" who was treated a like an individual again. I learned to do my job very quickly and I wasn't stressed out every day for fear of my instructor shedding his skin and turning into the monster he acted like just to teach me a lesson.
What I liked most of all after two months of little rest and no relaxation was finally being able to sleep in on weekends. This time off felt well-deserved after spending hours and hours each week on homework and improving mine and my fellow Airmen's dormitory lifestyle as a student leader or "rope."
I looked forward to finishing tech school, joining what others kept telling me was the "real" Air Force and becoming what I thought an Airman was supposed to be.
I learned many job skills taught and team building exercises. I also learned in tech school that if you're pressured enough to get the job done quickly and efficiently, you'll always find a way.
I mainly learned what a teacher of mine told me shortly before my graduation: you'll learn about 25 percent of the knowledge you'll need in the field from training, the rest you'll learn from experience and trial and error.
After graduating tech school, I was stationed at Joint Base Andrews, near the nation's capital. Here, I have the unique opportunity to meet people such as foreign dignitaries, military commanders, political leaders and other VIP's on a weekly basis, which is routine for me at this point.
I get to escort members of the press for President of the United States flights frequently. I take part in special events that only happen in this area such as presidential inaugurations and I am near high-profile aircrafts like Air Force One so often that, dare I say, such a significant sight seems like it has lost its magic.
I do not know if I will spend the next four or 20 years as a military man, but I do know that joining the Air Force was the best decision I could have made to give me the stability, future and skills that I always wanted. I know now that being an Airman is not just the rank you wear or the general title every member of the Air Force has.
I don't always like the training and paperwork I have to go through, but by this point, I realize that every assignment I'm tasked with has a reason behind it. That reason is usually for my benefit.
Being an Airman is embodying the core values you swear on your life to uphold, protecting the ideals of the Constitution of the United States and honoring those who came before you. Being an Airman is having the integrity to serve others and be the best you can be, no matter the situation. Being an Airman is not the rank you wear on your sleeve, it's something you earn.