Flashback Friday Moment of the Week: 7/4/2014

by Juan Thomas
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Today is July 4th. Some 238 years ago today, the Second Continental Congress, which had convened in Philadelphia, approved what would be forever known as the United States Declaration of Independence. It pretty much gave life to a new nation…one that would eventually overtake the superpowers of the time and become “the superpower”. While many celebrate today with fireworks, barbecues, and outfits featuring the colors of the nation’s flag, July 4th will always be a special day in my heart for a different reason. July 4th for me is Independence Day…from military service. It happened last year…on July 4, 2013. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: me gaining my independence back.

How I first came across this moment? I first came across the moment on March 8, 2009. Just 4 days earlier, on March 4th, I signed a 4-year re-enlistment contract with the United States Air Force. My then enlistment contract was set to expire in July 2009 and I still had some things I wanted to accomplish before I parted ways with military service. The fact that I got a cool $28000 bonus—with half upfront untaxed—by signing for those 4 extra years didn’t hurt either. On March 8th, I logged into the Air Force’s virtual Military Personnel Flight, the most nefariously diabolical website known to mankind, to update some personal information and I noticed that my new date of separation was July 4, 2013 as opposed to July 15, 2013, which would’ve been 4 added years to the already existing contract. I thought it was intriguing that my new DOS was on Independence Day. It wasn’t until I got jobbed over concerning the Los Angeles Air Force Base assignment in my return from overseas that I gave serious thought to the Independence Day separation from service. When I ended up with Joint Base Andrews as the assignment following my 3-year run in Tokyo, I knew I wasn’t going to sign another enlistment contract. From that point in 2010, I had my sights on applying for separation at my very first opportunity…and I prepared myself accordingly. On July 5, 2012 at 1pm Korea Time, as I was stationed at Osan Air Base outside of Seoul at the time, I logged into vMPF and applied for separation. All I had left was time. The last year of military service was the longest one…maybe because I spent all of it waiting for the end. On March 8, 2013, I received my separation orders and on May 10, 2013, I conducted all of my final outprocessing actions with the Osan Military Personnel Function, the most nefariously diabolical office in Air Force history. Two days later, I was on an Air Canada nonstop from Seoul Incheon to Vancouver International and into the final phase of my military service career: terminal leave. And on July 4, 2013, I woke up, played my hype up track—#2 off the Put Yo Hood Up album by Lil’ Jon & The East Side Boyz—and partied all day long because “I’s was free”. I took the above picture as a symbol of my transition from military service back to civilian life.

What it meant to me then? In the immediate moment, it meant everything to me. For the first time in 10 years, I had regained full control over my life. Up until that point, the Air Force pretty much made my moves though I had a minor voice in them. The independence from military service meant that I could grow out my goatee without having to worry about paperwork for “excessive and unauthorized facial hair”. It meant that I could get back to having my sideburns the way I wanted my sideburns. It meant that I could rock my earrings wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. Separating from military service gave me immediate immunity from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which pretty much meant that I could give anybody “the business” if they got out unnecessarily out of line with me. Too bad that 1-star general that gave me all kinds of hell in 2009 wasn’t around: I would’ve ripped his ass a new one laced up with F-bombs and other aggressive language. Gaining my independence back from the military meant that I could take control of my development professionally. I waited 4 years between the ranks of Senior Airman and Staff Sergeant and I tested 3 times during that time, twice ending up as the #1 nonselectee in my career field specialty. The quality of my work long suggested that I should’ve been a Staff Sergeant or perhaps even a Technical Sergeant but because of stuff I did very young into my Air Force career as an Airman and Airman First Class, years before I ascended to being the gold standard at Yokota Air Base, I was denied promotion by the controversial Weighted Airman Promotion System. In gaining my independence, I set out to recoup the time I spent playing with the pups.

What it means to me now? It’s been a year since I separated from the Air Force. Though I miss certain elements of it such as the like minds or the fact that everybody knew the importance of being on time, I’m happy to have my independence. Being a civilian is a lot more fun than being in the military and I remind those friends and associates of mine that are still in know this every day…in words and actions.

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