Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 8/27/2021

by Juan Thomas
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So we’ve reached the end of August and it’s been quite a swift month. It literally feels like yesterday was August 1st and I was in heavy anticipation of my family joining me here in Bogotá. Throughout my adult history, I’ve had some interesting late August moments. The string of tropical cyclones that targeted the Gulf Coast in 2004 is among them. Lairent Williams basically had us living in the Damage Control Center at Moody Air Force Base. Of course, there was Hurricane Katrina the following year. I’ll never forget all of the destruction and chaos I saw on my first military TDY. There was the grueling experience of Warrior Week in 2003, as I was trying to finish out basic military training. But the pivotal moment in the Long Hot Summer of 2011 may stand out most. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: getting the Osan assignment.

How I first came across this moment? As I alluded to in this specific Flashback Friday Moment of the Week, me getting the assignment to Osan Air Base all started when I entered my name into the Enlisted Quarterly Assignment List—better known in Air Force circles as the EQUAL. I only entered my name because of what The Community Planner did. August 25, 2011 is the day of significance here. Amid all of the preparation at Joint Base Andrews for Hurricane Irene, I got an email from the Virtual Military Personnel Flight (vMPF), notifying me that I had an assignment. After logging into the vMPF site, I discovered that it was an assignment to Osan Air Base in the suburbs of Seoul. Further investigation uncovered that it wasn’t an assignment to the Customer Service Office in the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron but rather a special assignment to the 694th Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Group as a Facility Manager for their site. The report no later than date (RNLTD) was June 2012.

What it meant to me then? In the immediate moment, I was quite excited. Reading the assignment details, I saw that it required a Top Secret/SCI security clearance. I confirmed that with the unit’s security manager and he indeed said that I needed the SCI clearance. Knowing that such a clearance is the equivalency of gold, I was over the moon in my excitement. Because of the combined factors of (1) the RNLTD of June 2012, (2) the 12-month term of the assignment, and (3) my enlistment contract expiring in July 2013, I made the decision early on that if I was able to secure the Top Secret clearance—and that was a big if at the time because of the unfavorable stuff in my personnel information file from early in my Air Force career—it would be my final Air Force assignment. Even before the security investigation concluded, I was already checking out on the Joint Base Andrews assignment. Between still feeling burned from what The Community Planner did and looking forward to independence, my focus turned to a possible 1-year residency in Seoul. In fact, I printed out the featured image and put it on the bulletin board next to my desk with the message: My body may be here but my Seoul is in Asia. My colleagues got a kick out of it.

What it means to me now? Getting the Osan assignment changed the trajectory of my life…literally. Had it been just a regular assignment to the 51st CES or to the other short tour assignment on the list (Lajes Field in the Azores of Portugal), I’m probably out of Joint Base Andrews in January-February 2012 and I’m probably likely still in the Air Force past my July 2013 contract expiration…and maybe even today in Year 19 of military service. But because it was a position that required a higher security clearance, I saw it as a very precious asset that would serve me better as a civilian hence my plan to separate from service at the end of my contract. The clearance also meant a much farther-out RNLTD and because of that, I was able to discover IFMA in March 2012 and attend their Facility Fusion conference in April 2012. That’s how I discovered my dream job, which I’m working right now. But even before I ascended to the mountain region of my professional career, I did get the job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…and that was on the strength of the work I did for the 694th ISRG. The USACE gig had me in Opelika, Alabama…and I wouldn’t have met Mercedes if I was anywhere else in the world. Getting that Osan assignment has been a boon to my life…and the fact that it happened on the heels of one of my darkest seasons makes it that much sweeter.

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