Never self-limit

  • Published
  • By Col. D. Scott Durham
  • 512th Operations Group commander
Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to read something, internalize it and act upon it correctly right off of the bat. I have to live it and test it. Most of the time this is unintentional, and I don't realize what I've done until I have an opportunity to go back and reflect on what just happened to me. This pattern started early in my career. I was a brand new graduate from college with big plans: get married, go to pilot training, do my 7-year commitment, get out, get a job with Delta as an airline pilot, make gobs of money and move back to the family homestead in upstate South Carolina. There I could live an insulated and comfortable life, raise kids and retire happy in the heart of both my wife and my extended families. Simple, right?

Air Force: "We want you to go to pilot training early."

Me: "Sorry, can't, not in the plan. I will stick to schedule."

Air Force (six months later): "Sorry, pilot training slots all cancelled, you can get out or pick another career field."

Me: "!!!"

This was my first life experience with the Air Force and generated my first hard and fast rule - rule No. 1: never turn down anything that is offered, at least not without weighing all the possible consequences. I failed to consider what might happen or, in my case, might not happen and I suffered the consequences of a poor decision.

Fast forward two years. I was now a newly trained air traffic controller at my first real duty station.

Air Force: "Hey! We have the new logistics master's degree program here at the depot. If you would like to apply for it, we will reimburse your cost, and you will get a master's degree from Georgia College."

Me: "No, thank you. Oh, wait; let me refer to rule No. 1."

So, I completed the master's program, which was relatively painless and mostly free. Having that degree as a lieutenant would open a lot of doors later on that I could not even conceive when I made that decision. Plus, doing it then was so much easier as I had no kids and no real responsibilities other than that of a lieutenant. Had I waited and completed it when it became "mandatory," I would have had to endure a whole other level of pain.

Four years later and so much wiser, I was at my first operational C-130 unit as a pilot... finally. I had just finished building a new house, and the plan was coming together to spend the rest of my Air Force career there and retire on my 16-acre spread on an airstrip with my very own fish pond.

One day, I got the wild idea to apply for a position on the initial cadre for the C-17 Globemaster at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. It was quite a long shot, but hey, it was a new airplane and in Charleston! The process would take several months and require a board review and several interviews. I told my wife that it would probably never happen and, if it did, it would be sometime in the next year before I found out anything. The C-17 school was three months long, so we didn't have to worry. We had plenty of time.

I submitted my application on a Monday and that Wednesday, I got a call from the Air Force (really, the squadron commander).

Air Force: "Hey! Hypothetically speaking, could you be in Altus, Okla., by Monday to start C-17 training?"

Me: remembering rule No.1 again, "Yes, sir."

And the rest is history. As a side note, the screening board process for this position never happened, and all those people who applied and then waited for it didn't make the transition.

These are just two examples of how by not self-limiting I have been able to "get lucky." I have others, as does anyone who has made a career of military service. If you incorporate these ideas into your civilian life, you will probably end up doing pretty good there as well.

My personal philosophy evolved to ensure that I am never told, "You could have had this opportunity, if only." So when the question comes up, "Should I accept that additional duty, job, promotion, school, temporary duty assignment, etc.," give it some serious thought. Try to imagine the long-term benefit and get around the immediate pain of actually having to do it. After a while that subsides and you are left with fond memories and valuable experiences. The weight of all this tends to build a sort of life momentum that will continue to propel you on and up, or at least forward. At the end of the day, it is your choice.