The power of encouragement

  • Published
  • By Maj. Harlan Thompson
  • 65th Air Base Wing Inspector General
Never underestimate the power of encouragement.

When I enlisted in the Air Force in 1993, I had hoped to go to Officer Training School a year later. After seeing how stiff the competition was with only extremely high Air Force Officer Qualifying Test scores being accepted, along with high GPAs, I was discouraged after not making it the first time. I compared my own inadequacies with the competition; it really seemed like a bridge too far.

I enjoyed my career as a flying KC-10A crew chief. Life was going pretty good until I lost my flying slot. I went from flying around the world to handing out tool boxes and technical order manuals.

This opportunity gave me more time to once again put in a package for OTS. At the base Education Office I learned I wouldn't need an age waiver because the age limit was raised from 30 to 35. I also learned that some of the recent AFOQT scores being accepted to OTS were no longer just the really high scores. These two pieces of news encouraged me greatly once again.

I decided to just keep applying to OTS until I got too old. A fellow crew chief, Quinn, often asked when he saw me if I had heard anything about my OTS package yet. He would always say, "You'll make it."

Life was looking up. After spending a couple of years as a flying crew chief, I had saved enough money for a down payment on a small house. I put several thousand dollars into upgrading the home, but rains from a hurricane revealed that the basement had issues with water seepage. A French drain system was around $3,000. We received notice that our minivan had a recall for an inferior head gasket which would be replaced for free if we had less than 60,000 miles, we had more than 70,000 miles. A few weeks later, the head gasket blew a leak, contaminated the transmission fluid, causing the transmission to overheat and die. Three thousand dollars later we were back on the road.

This was not to be the end of this cycle. My son started kindergarten. Weeks later, we learned he had double vision. His eye muscles were weak and needed therapy to get them to work together. Medical insurance would cover eye surgery but not therapy. Eye therapy was $130 a week. In three months, I went from money in the bank to being in debt, due to no fault of my own. I began to feel like the Biblical character Job who lost everything. My wife told me that I had to get another job. I started bagging groceries at the commissary evenings and weekends. I also began working at a carnival food stand at different regional festival celebrations. I worked seven days a week to survive, for a year. I remember praying, "God, life should not be this hard." All during this time, Quinn kept asking me if I had heard anything about my OTS package...each time he'd say, "You'll make it".

One evening while bagging at the commissary, Quinn told me that he saw my name in the Air Force Times. I told him that it had to be someone else. He retrieved a two month old paper showing my name as a newly selected lieutenant. Quinn said, "See, I told you that you would make it!"

Remember that if you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it didn't get there by itself. You never know how important your encouragement may be to a fellow Airman.