The opportunity to serve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Clint "Q" Hinote
  • 3rd Fighter Training Squadron commander
"That could have been me..." 

That thought came to mind as I read a recent commentary by a lieutenant at Vance AFB. In it, she apologized for showing disappointment on her assignment night. She was at the end of the T-38 phase, and instead of receiving the expected fighter or bomber, she was selected to fly C-17s, because this was what the Air Force needed. 

I understood her disappointment. Although I entered pilot training with one goal - graduation -- I became hooked on certain types of flying. I loved to fly formation and low-level and I wanted an assignment where I could continue to do so. I guess you could say I had my heart set on fighters. 

I was fortunate enough to get that fighter assignment, but I know how disappointed I would have been had I not. You see, my perspective was pretty limited back then. 

That changed as I learned about the larger Air Force. Through experiences such as Squadron Officer School, multiple deployments, and standing up a new squadron, I learned from Airmen whose duties were much different than mine. 

This was especially true when I deployed to be the chief of strategy for the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in the Middle East. 

The CAOC team contained Airmen from almost every specialty in the Air Force -- and many from our sister services. I worked side-by-side with base defenders, logisticians, civil engineers, communicators, public affairs officers, lawyers and chaplains to name a few. Their professionalism and dedication were, at times, quite humbling for this fighter pilot. 

Perhaps the most humbling experiences, however, were in the field. As I traveled I saw our people making a difference by doing their jobs with excellence. This included the many different types of operators that created war-winning effects in air, space, and cyberspace. 

Many of those operators were pilots -- graduates of pilot training -- who routinely made extraordinary contributions to the war. When I traveled into Baghdad, pilots flew the dangerous spiral approach into the airport to avoid surface-to-air missile attacks. 

When we had wounded warriors to evacuate, pilots flew them through nasty weather to the medical care they needed. 

Pilots flew into the dangerous valleys in Afghanistan to airdrop food, water and medicine to our soldiers in remote bases. 

It was our pilots who had the situational awareness to navigate their unmanned aircraft through mountainous mazes in order to keep our special operations teams safe. 

As the "surge" took hold in Iraq, pilots -- including Marines and naval aviators -- provided overwatch and, when required, devastating force. 

I doubt all of these pilots were flying their first choice of aircraft. They persevered; they had an opportunity to contribute to our nation's war effort and they did so with excellence. 

That opportunity -- not a specific job or platform -- should be our primary goal when we volunteer to serve. We are at war. While it may not be the war we would have chosen, it is the war we are in. 

The country may need us to do the job we always dreamed of doing, or for us pilots, to fly the airplane we always dreamed of flying. But it may not. 

Over a career, we all deal with disappointments. While I've enjoyed many great experiences in the Air Force, I've also had to cope with failure, rejection, bad bosses and a career path that was much different than I expected -- or wanted. 

I think it's OK to be a bit down if things don't work out the way we hope. We're human. After a short time though, we must dust ourselves off and resolve to be the best we can be no matter the task. I'm convinced that people who do this are much more effective -- and much happier -- than those who harbor bitterness and resentment. 

Many things that affect us are beyond our control. However, we can always control our attitude. If you are able to maintain a positive attitude through both the good and the bad times, others will want to be around you, and one day, to follow you. 

And you will be ready to make a difference when you get the opportunity to serve.