In a Word: Opportunity

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Samuel Hagadorn
  • 65th Air Base Wing command chief
I remember the day like it was just last week: I was sitting in my seventh-period high school English class in Turlock, Calif., late summer of 1980. The windows were open, but that offered no relief from the sweltering heat. I had done my homework, but many others hadn't, so the teacher was going over the lesson in excruciating detail. This was the last class of the day, and I just wanted to get out of there!

Breaking the monotony, the intercom buzzer rang. After a short conversation, the teacher told me I was excused because a visitor was waiting for me in the career center. I wasn't expecting anybody, but I was happy to leave.

As I entered the career center, a sharply dressed Navy recruiter greeted me, and asked me to consider joining the team. He had plenty to offer--valuable training, education benefits, and travel to exotic places. It was enticing, and presented a real opportunity to escape the slow-paced dairy and farming community in California's San Joaquin Valley. However, I wasn't thrilled about the probability of living on a ship, so I said I would think about it. As I exited the building, an Air Force recruiter was headed in. I asked him, "Do you have a few minutes?" He had a similar pitch, but with no ships in the equation, I was hooked.

I had never before considered a military career, but I figured a four-year stint couldn't hurt. Perhaps, I could travel to a place or two and pick up some useful skills before moving on to a civilian career. But from that day forward, the one constant that has never faded since I joined is opportunity.

Even in the initial hours at basic training at Lackland AIr Force base, Texas, opportunities to excel began to present themselves. Those who volunteered generally received more desirable details than those who keep silent. Airmen who demonstrated maturity were challenged with leadership roles.

By its very nature, the Air Force offers its members opportunities to mature, learn valuable skills, travel, pursue off-duty education, and advance, among many other things. My career has been no different, and opportunities have been limited largely only by my desire to seek them.

I met my wife during my first assignment, and she has shared the challenges and joys along the way. My children received a high- quality education largely in Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas, where they maintained a margin well ahead of their peers in average U.S. schools. There, they also gained a 'world' perspective and appreciation for cultures that can't be obtained in the U.S.

Just as I'd hoped when I spoke to the very first recruiter, I've had extensive opportunities to travel around the globe, visiting some 57 or so nations either on leave, or pursuant to duty.

When I was an Airman, I didn't know at first if the military was the right thing for me. I figured I had four years to figure it out, and if I was enjoying it, I would reenlist. I was definitely enjoying what I was doing, so four years turned into eight, then 12, 20, and so on until high year tenure now requires me to leave at 30.

As the first member of my family to join the military for any significant period of time (my father was drafted into the Navy, but served only a few short months), I wasn't sure what to expect. When I realized I might wish to remain in long enough to retire, I thought master sergeant might be a lofty goal. I feel greatly blessed to have attained past that. Opportunities are all around us, and can lead us to, and even past our dreams.

As I am in the 'twilight' of my Air Force career, I am cognizant that many visionaries before me paved the way for the benefits I now reap. A successful career is the culmination of not only the member's efforts, but to a very large degree, the opportunities created by the efforts of many supervisors, coworkers and even subordinates along the way. Opportunities are all around us--we only need to recognize, and act upon them.

I am thankful to have had the privilege and opportunity to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with some of America's finest citizens throughout my career. Furthermore, I couldn't have been blessed with a better place to cap off a wonderful career than Lajes. There's no doubt, opportunities abound in an Air Force career; it really is a great way of life. So make it count! Thank you for serving, and thanks for all you do!