In this interview with a veteran who is transitioning into the civilian workforce, he shares how his career in the Air Force fell into his lap one day as he was ducking into a building to escape the rain. 21 years later he retired from the Air Force, and he is now looking to use the skills and training he obtained in his time of duty in order to move into a civilian human resources position.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
A: I am a recently retired Master Sargent in the US Air Force. I spent 21 years in the military and worked at various positions in personnel. My last job was as a manager for officers personnel records. Dependable. Straightforward. Dedicated.
Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?
A: I am a white male. It has neither hurt nor helped me. The Air Force tries very hard to be colorblind.
Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
A: I did the same type of things that any human resources office would do. The last position I had required me and the staff I supervised to make sure all records were complete for all the officers on the base. Security is a big issue for military records of any kind, but particularly so for officers. It contains college information, such as test scores, financial and family information, and career evaluations. Records of this type are classified and access is limited. One common misconception about being in the Air Force is that everyone either flies planes or works on planes and this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
A: My job satisfaction was a 10. I only retired because my wife has some serious health problems and I was going to be transferred to a remote site for one year and my family could not go with me.
Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
A: I would have to say my entire military career was my sweet spot in life. It was safe and secure and whatever was happening on the outside really didn’t effect me. There were no worries about being laid off or downsized as long as I did what was expected and didn’t get in trouble. There was always a roof over my head and medical care for my family at no additional cost.
Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
A: When a recruit first goes into the military they are tested to see what career field best fits their knowledge and ability. The recruit is then assigned a position and further trained in a technical school. If it turns out that they don’t like the field they have been assigned to work in, they can apply for re-training after a certain period of time and be reassigned to an entirely different career. Everyone has the opportunity to advance in rank if they do a good job and attempt to learn more about their career field and pass promotional exams.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A: To be absolutely honest, it was an accident. I was trying to find a job right after high school so I could save money and get away from my father. I was out going from place to place and it started raining and I ducked into the nearest building and it happened to have recruiting offices in it. The Air Force recruiter struck up a conversation and the next thing I knew I was taking the test to be admitted and ended up signing up for four years in the Air Force. I liked it and four years became twenty-one years. It turned out great so I don’t think I’d do anything differently.
Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
A: If you can make it through boot camp, you can make it through anything. This is also where you learn to be invisible and to toe the line. If you don’t, you are just turning yourself into a target for the drill Sargent to make your life hell.
Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
A: Do what you are told to do and respect the person ordering you to do it whether you like them or not. If you have a problem with something, follow the chain of command to resolve it.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
A: I was assigned to a base that was in the process of closing and by the time I got there my position no longer existed and there was nothing to do for six months until the base finished closing and I was reassigned. I was told I had to report to work every day in uniform, even though there was nothing there to do.
Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
A: I enjoyed doing my job and doing it well. I felt proud to be in the service and every time I earned a new stripe I felt good because I was being recognized for doing a good job.
Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?
A: The biggest challenge was to be 100% accurate in handling the officers records because their assignments and their promotions were linked to what was in their records. If something was incomplete or missing, it could effect their career. I consider myself very lucky because I never had one of those moments where I just wanted to quit.
Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
A: My job wasn’t a stressful job except when I would have to go to another base for a temporary assignment for a few weeks, or the one time I had to go to a remote base for one year without my family. The stress wasn’t work related, but from being concerned about being away from my family. In my career field that doesn’t happen very often, though. When I left work for the day, I was always able to leave my job at the office.
Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A: Military members are paid according to their rank and time in the service. They are not paid particularly well in a salary, but there are other things that have to be considered such as housing is provided, uniform allowance is added to your base salary, medical care is free for the family, if you choose to live on base, all the utilities are paid for you, a food allowance for the military member is added to the pay, all moves to other bases are fully paid for, you receive 30 days annual paid vacation each year, and each base is like a small city with a grocery store that has discounted food and a department store with discounted clothing and household goods.
Even with all these things, it isn’t easy to maintain a balanced budget for lower ranked military members. Many of the young families need food stamp assistance.
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A: A high school diploma is all that is needed to enlist. To be an officer, you must have a college degree.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
A: It is a good career. You get training, you can take college courses that are paid for, and at the 20 year point you can retire and collect half your salary for the rest of your life.
Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
A: I’d like to be working in a human resources office for a major company.