Seizing moments can make, break career

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Corey Miller
  • 21st Security Forces Squadron
On Jan. 4, 2014, I will celebrate the completion of my 20th year in the Air Force. To say it has been the career I dreamed of on that fateful day in January 1994 when I stepped off the bus at basic training would be far from the truth.

After 20 years of doing something, you may find yourself in a position of contemplation and review. Since the first time I heard The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost as a high school freshman, I have taken the final stanza to heart and used it as a guiding force in my military career.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Like most of my fellow senior NCOs, field grade officers and even wing commanders who are on the cusp of 30 years of service, I often think back to specific moments in my career which took me down the road less traveled. When I have an opportunity to mentor junior enlisted and company grade officers, I always harken back to specific moments in my career and the lessons I learned from the decisions which brought me to this point today. Most of us have had these moments, but I want to share a few of them with you now.

As a senior airman I was presented with the rare opportunity to become the NCOIC of resource protection, which made me responsible for 83 controlled areas on Yokota Air Base, Japan. The program was my first exposure to wing-level responsibility. At the time, I was a crime prevention specialist and drug abuse resistance education instructor. My level of responsibility was minimal. I had no Airmen to supervise and worked in an office with another senior airman. This all changed when the NCOIC received another assignment and a new hire was needed. I was nervous and unsure of whether I could handle the responsibility. My mentor at the time, a civilian by the name of Jerry Covington, encouraged me to go for it, saying to me, "What's the worst that could happen?"

I applied and was hired. I ended up learning so much about the duties and responsibilities of an NCO before I was even a staff sergeant; I benefited greatly when I did eventually earn that next stripe. It also exposed me to other career fields within the Air Force and how my mission impacted them.

As a staff sergeant, I was given a change to be the antiterrorism officer in Izmir, Turkey. Izmir Air Station was a small unit, barely large enough to be a squadron. In this case, timing and location was everything as I was given the position a month after 9/11 and Izmir was a group of buildings located amidst a population of three million people. Needless to say, threats to our buildings were prevalent and incidents occurred on a regular basis. This was the first position in which I was challenged and felt like I made a difference.

As a technical sergeant, I was an assistant flight chief for the first time at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. I was mentored by a master sergeant who had 19 years service in at the time. The fortunate turn of events in this position was the master sergeant who stepped away and allowed me to "run the show," as he put it. What I originally perceived as laziness and a poor work ethic was just him recognizing in me the ability to lead and giving me an opportunity to do just that.

By the time I reached master sergeant, I was working at the Pacific Air Forces Headquarters under the tutelage of some of the best minds in my career field. I was only brought there because a senior master sergeant leaving my unit at Hickam recognized something in me and refused to leave the unit without me in tow. This was a gift as the opportunity afforded me the chance to see policy from a strategic level and truly feel like I was making a difference in the career field.

All in all, I have had a great career thus far. While I am proud of my accomplishments, they were never just my accomplishments. Every step of my professional career, I have had someone there who has shown me the very path that Robert Frost wrote about all those years ago. If you are a senior NCO reading this article, I challenge you to be that someone who mentors the up and coming Airmen. If you are an Airman reading this, do not hesitate when you come to that fork in the road. Take a leap of faith and run down that path, and who knows where your career may go?