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'We're all in this together' -- A senior NCO's five constants

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Service in the Air Force today means different things for different people. Depending on your unique circumstances, such as family dynamics, job or upbringing, how you navigate through those dynamics can have a significant impact on your time serving and significantly help you prepare for the day you no longer will wear the uniform, whether that's after four years or 30 years. 

Through a series of both positive and negative experiences, as well as some great counsel over the years, I've gained insight and perspective that have served me well for more than 22 years.  I'm proud to share the five most important constants I've learned over the course of my career in the hopes they may help someone else navigate through their own individual circumstances, and maybe have a positive affect for someone. 

I've been fortunate enough to have some good supervisors, mentors, friends and family who have looked out for me. They've collectively helped me to take advantage of the opportunities the Air Force has presented to me over the span of my career, which in turn helped me prepare for life after my service. Generally speaking, time and experience yield clarity; here are some things I've learned and learned to value through the years:

Integrity and respect: Without them, you may not even get through the door of an organization; in fact, it could be one of the quickest ways out of an organization.  We live in an extremely global world today with information moving faster than ever before, militarily, economically and socially.  Many times, as we're presented with challenges, the best path to a viable solution will be rooted in mutual integrity and respect. 

Invest in yourself, both financially and academically: Understanding the relationship between time, money and interest can be one of the most important, lifelong-benefitting lessons one can learn.  Similarly, understanding the doors that a college degree could open for you toward achieving your goals is equally valuable.  The Air Force offers exceptional benefits, assistance and opportunities in both of these areas that could significantly improve your earning power and lifestyle for years, long after you lace up your boots for the last time.  

Get involved in your community: Seek out and get involved in a community organization that you believe in supporting -- a cause that is important to you.  The key is to do it because you genuinely want to do it, not because you believe someone else wants you to do it.  Aside from the personal satisfaction of doing so, community involvement can also provide networking opportunities, experience outside of and a break from your primary job, and help you to develop significant personal and professional relationships.    

Be careful with alcohol: Keep your alcohol use in check. If the bar tab starts to become a major expenditure on your budget or waking up each morning with a headache has become the norm, it may be time to look in the mirror and ask yourself some honest questions.  Although many people believe they can hide hangovers, people do notice when you're not at full speed.  If you need help, get help. If you still find yourself consuming significant amounts of alcohol very frequently, regardless of your age or rank, and you feel like you've got it under control, just be honest with yourself. It usually catches up to you, either physically, mentally or legally.  Alcohol-related problems can spiral out of control very quickly and can have significant effects on you, your organization and your family.

Balance: Find the balance in your life.  It's difficult to go full speed 24/7 without eventually breaking down at some point.  Everyone's priority is THE priority, but there needs to be a balance. With today's challenges of less people, time and money, you have to recognize when you're out of balance.  Find things that will make your life more efficient. Be proactive as best you can. Maintain your family responsibilities as one of YOUR priorities. Stay physically active to help relieve stress. Eat well. And most importantly, ask for help when you need it; no one is in this alone. 

I hope someone finds my message helpful, and maybe this sparks an opportunity for further conversation.

Once again, we're all in this together.