Today is Halloween. It’s the only day in October—and 1 of 3 in the calendar year, alongside February 7 and August 4—that reminds me of loss. On this day 11 years ago—on a Friday no less—I lost somebody very special to me. The aftermath of that loss has affected me in one of the most critical areas of life for a decade. So when this day rolls around, I often look back to Triumphs & Tribulations II, III, and IV, when things seemed to be going so well for me. The words that I wrote about a budding love at 17, 18, and that 1 week at 19 sometimes has me in my feelings. I’ve cried almost every year as I read about the adventures in love between me and Valorie. I can only hope that this brand new relationship I’m in can survive as long as that one did—which was only 1 ½ years—and possibly be greater. But that’s a story for another Flashback Friday…I hope. As I looked through Halloween entries in past volumes of my journal, I’ve found that not all of the occasions have been filled with sadness. In fact, as much as Halloween 2003 hurt in one area of life, it was actually one of the best days in another area. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: earning the Civil Engineer badge.
How I first came across this moment? Let’s flashback to that fateful Halloween in 2003. The scene was Sheppard Air Force Base, just outside of Wichita Falls, Texas. Hours before I was excitedly ready to depart Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on an American Airlines nonstop to Birmingham or before I was sitting on the steps of the 366th Training Squadron dormitory whispering sweet nothings into that Sanyo 6200 I copped the day before, I had to finish technical training school. The course—AFSC 3E6X1: Operations Management—was supposed to be a 5-week course but my class actually finished in 3 ½ weeks…mostly because of class size (only 3 of us) and the fact that we finished the entire 1st week of instruction on the 1st day earlier that month. October 31 was the date of our final exam, which was merely a formality as all of us could’ve bombed it and still passed with Bs. I actually got a 94 on the exam, cementing my status as the Distinguished Graduate in my class. At the graduation ceremony, in addition to the graduation certificate, my flight chief issued me 2 other things: (1) my Airman 1st Class stripes, signifying that I had completed all requirements, per my contract, to advance to E-3, and (2) my Civil Engineer occupational badge, which signified that I was officially a member of the Air Force Civil Engineer family.
What it meant to me then? At the time, getting the occupational badge was a big deal. Me and my classmates—Jacob and Matthew—were the only 3E6X1s on Sheppard that didn’t have badges. When we’d interact with the active duty Operations Managers stationed there as well as the graduates in the flight ahead of us, we felt like pipsqueaks. And then there was the instructor—SrA Caughern—who prominently had her badge displayed as she taught us the ins and outs of the 3E6X1 career field. Getting that badge from the flight chief was a grand achievement for me. It meant that I earned my place into the career field. It meant just as much as me getting the name tape for my battle dress uniform in Week 3 of basic military training 2 months earlier.
What it means to me now? Today, with me having gained my independence from the Air Force and exiting the Civil Engineer career field, the occupational badge doesn’t mean quite as much now as it did when I was an active servicemember. Nevertheless, I still consider myself a civil engineer for life. There was once upon a time—in the early part of 2011—that I flirted with leaving the career field under the NCORP program to be an EEO specialist. I actually spent a week job shadowing the EEO peeps at Joint Base Andrews. On the 4th day, I was standing in the mirror, looking my service uniform over before leaving my apartment, when I noticed my occupational badge. It was in that moment that I realized I loved being an Operations Manager—and to a larger degree, a Civil Engineer. I stayed on as both for 2 more years until my contract expired. Today, I still have the occupational badge I wore on my service uniform and, of course, there’s the one stitched into my Airman Battle Uniform shirt that I wear from time-to-time as a jacket.