I often recall raising my right hand and reciting the Oath of Enlistment at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Dallas, Texas. This was the beginning of what would become a life-altering decision to serve others, with a fundamental desire to be a better man. Crossing this threshold toward service for my country would eventually expose me to a unique and demanding environment of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all that was required of me.
A clear understanding of these core principles early in my career had a profound impact on my ability to navigate the often challenging aspects of military service. This included intense technical training, humanitarian missions, combat operations, and many Air Force cultural changes, including significant shifts in the military’s war-fighting philosophy.
The U.S. Air Force core principles of Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do, provided a clear path for personal and organizational success for me as an Airman. Little did I know at the time that these same core principles would serve as important pillars of success during my transition, and eventual immersion, into civilian life.
Successful transition from such a structured and deeply honorable way of life can be challenging, but is possible through a diligent effort to never lose sight of the core principles that afforded each of us success during our military service.
During my initial transition and exposure to the civilian realm, continuous communications with my spouse, setting transitional goals, and accepting the support of fellow Veterans along the way, were the most important keys to my own transitional successful.
Although everyone will have different experiences during transition, never lose sight of what made you outstanding in service, and continue to maintain and embrace these principles during your first year as a civilian and beyond.
I vividly remember a brief, but life-changing statement made by a dear uncle, early in my career. He stopped abruptly in the middle of a conversation with me and exclaimed, “You’re a military man!” In my youthful immaturity, I rejected this notion and preferred instead to hold on to the belief that I was the same person I was before I entered the service and nothing would ever change who I was.
What I realized later was that he saw something I hadn’t yet seen in myself: I had developed my own integrity, service before self, and excellence. He saw in me a level of professionalism that was nurtured and honed by the best military in the world.
During transition and your first year out of service, this professionalism will continue to be evident to those around you. It’s up to each of you to continue upholding those core principles and values, and understand the importance of continued flexibility and adaptability.
In summary, it is my hope that you consider three important factors during transition and your first year as a Veteran:
- As a military member, you were a well trained professional, who was held to extremely high standards. In civilian life, you are still a well trained professional, but must make the effort to hold yourself to those same high standards.
- Keep your family involved every step of the way, because they are transitioning right along with you. Communication helps fill gaps that would otherwise be filled with uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
- Seek and accept the assistance of fellow Veterans and the many support services available to you as a Veteran.
In closing, I leave you with a quote from an unnamed author during the eulogy for his father, who served America for many years in the U.S. Senate:
“Always be willing to compromise, but never compromise your principles.”
Eric Brown served in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years and retired on December 1, 2009. After serving 15 years in support of combat operations, he entered the medical field, which included mental health and substance abuse services, and family advocacy.
Eric was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Achievement Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Chief Master Sgt Lewis W. Dunlap Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year, Pacific Air Forces, the 374 Medical Group Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, the 374 Medical Operations Squadron Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and was a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force Mental Health Technician course.
In January of 2012 Eric joined the Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB) as a management analyst and later became the Deputy Director for the VLB Texas State Veterans Cemeteries program. You can hear Eric’s full story here at the Voices of Veterans oral history program.