Ebb and flow of a military career

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joshua DeMotts
  • 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander
When I was a young lieutenant stationed at Elmendorf, I learned a lot about tides from some of our old hat civilians in the squadron. Being from Wisconsin, I hadn't had much experience with the ocean and my knowledge level showed itself on several occasions when I found myself sloshing through exposed glacial silt that hadn't been there 30 minutes earlier or napping in my Zodiac waiting for the tide to come back in so I could launch out.

I learned that the best times to fish were around slack tides and the worst was when the water was moving. The short version of how the ebb and flow of tides works is that water flows in toward land, reaches its height, slacks then begins to ebb back out to sea until it reaches its low point where it slacks again...then repeat. For any nautical experts out there I apologize, I'm sure I butchered that explanation on the tides. You outdoors people, my apologies to you as well because this article is neither about fishing nor Alaska. For everyone else, please continue and I'll explain how I see a military career as an ebb and flow proposition.

Flow: I can explain squadron command no better than to call it a flow scenario. It is an absolutely endless bombardment of information, taskers and projects, and just when you think you've got things under control, more gets piled on. My first year in this job has been absolutely mind boggling. I had no idea the global reach of Peterson AFB and Team Pete when I took the flag, and I learn new things every day. My time at Peterson hasn't been my only flow experience, Iraq and Afghanistan tours were also just short of turning a CE officer into a psychiatric case study. Like a lot of people here on Peterson, I'd say my career is flowing right now and it will be until the day I hand the 21st CES flag to another unsuspecting engineer, at which time I will reach slack tide.

Slack: As previously stated, this is the time to go fishing. I distinctly remember handing off the flag to the 451st Expeditionary CES in Kandahar in 2010 and the feeling of pure exhaustion. All the sleepless nights, early wake-ups and expeditionary issues went right along with that flag and I entered slack mode (not slacker mind you). My single purpose in life became to get myself home to my family. The next week of my life was one of the best on the books: we went to concerts, baseball games and dinners out. Time with my wife and a movie replaced generators, tents and broken air conditioning units. I was in recharge mode and ready to ebb (decompress) in my next job as I spent the next year in school.

Ebb: I see ebb as when you let it all go. All the potholes turn to smooth roads, IEDs into training aids and burning staff packages into Outdoor Life magazines. For me, following command in Afghanistan I had a year of ebb time when I went to Marine Command and Staff College. There was time to spend with my family and work, so much so our first child was born (sorry Patti, embarrassing comment). I actually cooked and cleaned and wrote papers and read about military history. In short, there was time enough to both work and play unlike a flow time where there is time for little more than work or a slack time where playing is the focus.

By no means am I seeking sympathy in this article. I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into. The life of a base civil engineer is one of long hours trying to get in front of issues. What I do try to explain to my young officers is that it's not always like this in a military career -- there are times when your focus in life is to work (flow); there's a time to transition and take time off to go fishing (slack); and there's a time to let it all go and embrace balance (ebb).

If your job has you flowing right now, I wish you best of luck for an early slack and successful ebb -- I can sympathize with you.