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Share your story, help an Airman

Maj. John “Mark” Klohr, 71st Logistics Readiness Squadron commander

Maj. John “Mark” Klohr, 71st Logistics Readiness Squadron commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Public speaking is most people's worst fear. I've seen many good Airmen fail to earn their Community College of the Air Force degree because they did not want to take Public Speaking, a course necessary to transition from a technician to a leader.

A bigger fear is sharing an embarrassing mistake from your past with a large audience, especially when the mistake you made carried a punishment that cost a career or stunted someone's professional growth.

Vance has a Storytellers program led by our community support coordinator, Maggie Laws. It is similar in nature to the Ted Talks series, which has thousands of 18-minute videos on a variety of ideas. Ted Talks has excellent speakers and even better messages. If you have not seen one, I encourage you to watch one in the near future.

This year Maggie inspired me to tell my story, "Sink or Swim." It is the story of an enlisted, first-term Airman who went drinking with his supervisor while on duty, resulting in an alcohol-related driving incident due to poor leadership from his supervisor and the Airman's own stupidity.

Luckily, the story does not involve injuries or a loss of life, but it did result in a dreaded Article 15. In case you're wondering, I was the stupid Airman.

I do not tell my story because I'm proud of my past. I do not wear it as a badge of honor.

However, I do appreciate how it has shaped me into the person I am today.

I share my story to give hope to those who are walking in the shoes I once wore.

I share my story so those who have taken a similar path at any point in their lives know they are not alone.

I share my story to remind everyone that the Air Force is not always a one mistake Air Force.

I share my story because it is part of a process of personal improvement; a process that worked for me.

I deserved an Article 15, and today I am a squadron commander. Yet, as I have grown up through the ranks, I have witnessed a change -- our corporate Air Force is placing more of a long-term stigma on the careers of Airmen who received an Article 15.

The book "The Military Commander and the Law" specifically states that Non-Judicial Punishment is not meant to have the stigma of a court martial. It is a commander's tool to effect immediate, positive change in a unit.

Placing a long-term stigma on an Article 15 is essentially removing a highly-useful tool available to the commander; a tool that helped shape me into who I am today.

Knowing that a long-term stigma for an Article 15 exists may make some commanders reluctant to offer an Article 15 in cases where they may have otherwise done so.

This stigma essentially makes an Article 15 a court martial by other means.

In my story, a squadron commander issued me an Article 15. That motivated me to correct my actions and better myself. It shaped the way I viewed the world, and I am more successful for it.

Everyone has a story; a story worth sharing, and a story worth hearing. Someone in the Air Force is currently going through what you have experienced and can certainly use your story to help build their resilience.

Others may have gone through your unique situation, and the shame of the experience may still negatively affect them today.

Hearing your story may give them the very "pick me up" they need, reassuring them they are not alone and mistakes, however unique, are normal and survivable.

Some have said "don't let a crisis go to waste;" meaning: take advantage of the current situation to receive what you desire.

I propose that you don't let a mistake go to waste. Accept it, own it, and learn from it.

Perhaps a better quote, one that has inspired me is, "the fires of adversity temper the steel of a man."

Adversity is difficult as though fire surrounds you, but we use fire to smelt and mold steel to the very strength and design we need.

You can use adversity to your advantage to help shape your character and who you are as a person, a leader and an Airman.

Help shape others by sharing your story - a story worth sharing.