This past Tuesday was my regular day off this pay period so I went out to my old stomping grounds at Joint Base Andrews to hang out with my old supervisor and visit my old office. While I was there, I was actually able to catch up with an old colleague of mine from my days in South Georgia. I spent about an hour chatting it up with her as we reminisced on the Moody Air Force Base assignment, how we were so young and how we’ve both grown up since. She showed me a picture we took during those days in Valdosta and I let out a little chuckle. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the young operations managers of the 347th Civil Engineer Squadron Customer Service Office.
How I first came across this moment? The picture, which is this week’s Featured Image, is from my days as a junior enlisted airman in the Air Force. I can’t put my finger on the exact date because I didn’t include this in Triumphs & Tribulations VI but there were a few things to point out that lend to its date: (1) the 347th Rescue Wing patch was still visible on our BDU shirts ahead of the October 2006 transition to the 23rd Wing, (2) Alex Dubrov—pictured back right—was still there ahead of his Summer 2006 departure, (3) Lametria—pictured back left—was already married, (4) Julie and Lindsey—pictured front right—still had their maiden names, (5) April—pictured front left—was there and (6) the wall behind us still existed in full as a door was cut there in the Summer of 2006. What really stands out about the image and the timeline is my appearance in it. Taking all of the other things into account and adding my presence puts the date between Fall 2005 and early Spring 2006. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been in the photo as I was assigned to the Base Honor Guard in May 2006. If memory serves me correctly, we were the last 5-level CE operations managers left on the base…a group that included as many as 14 of us the year prior before attrition happened. I’m reasonably certain that the photo was taken by then-Staff Sergeant Ulrike Jasper, one of only 2 non-commissioned officers still in the office at that time. I came across the moment by simply working in Building 919…the CES Customer Service Office.
What it meant to me then? Based on whom was pictured in the photo, I was the youngest and most junior in rank. If not for April doing an assignment swap with another airman, I would’ve also been the newest person in the photo. I think I’ve written this several times in Triumphs & Tribulations during those Moody days but there was nothing great about being the youngest, newest, and most junior in rank of your office. It was the trifecta that oftentimes left you with the short end of the stick. I’m always grateful to April—whom crossed my path again at Joint Base Andrews—for that. Anyway, at the time this photo was taken, I hated the assignment. Hence, I’m the only one showing any kind of negative disposition. Maybe it was the trifecta wearing on me or maybe it was just me wanting a change as I craved a bigger base and a bigger role. But despite my disposition, I enjoyed working with this particular crew. Lindsey was my sponsor and I had known her—through phone calls, at least—for several months before I arrived at Moody. She was the one who picked me up from the Greyhound bus station. Alex and I alternated on the Service Call desk my first year there. Up until he got married, we usually hung out and watched hockey in the day rooms. April was the most senior of all of us and she knew her stuff. I learned a lot about reports from her. Before our fallout the following year, Julie was actually one of my closest friends at Moody. Before I acquired the Red Fox, she let me drive her truck to get around. The person I was closest to though was Lametria. We always shot the breeze down at her office in the Vertical Repair shop. It was her that almost always convinced me to tag along to club nights Rick’s Someplace Else or Illusions…always as the designated driver. I was also close with Lametria because I kinda had a thing for a couple of people she was close with…her little sister and her good friend who worked in the Operations Support Squadron. Getting close to Lametria got me close to them though I never shot my shot. It was a good office. We were young but we were damn good at what we do as we were the catalysts for the squadron getting back-to-back Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.
What it means to me now? More than a decade removed, I feel cheated by the experience. I write that because I didn’t appreciate it the way I probably should have. I never worked alongside a better group of enlisted operations managers the rest of my career. Sure, my team at Yokota was fantastic but that was mostly Japanese nationals. Moody was the only spot where I had a team that I could enjoy hanging out with in and out of the office. I probably should’ve done a better job cultivating those relationships. Besides Lametria and Lindsey, I haven’t spoken to any of them in several years…and I only speak to them mostly in passing on Facebook. If I had to answer what it means to me now, I’d have to say regret and lost opportunity. Regret because of what happened between Julie and I and lost opportunity because there were probably 4 friendships in that photo that I allowed to wither away over my last year in Valdosta.