Growing up in rural Maine was a unique, and in many ways, insulated experience. While the sun rises first on its shorelines, trends and cultural fads really do seem to reach the easternmost continental state last. I swear, people are just discovering Nirvana up there.
Still, it has its charm. The kind of charm unique to small town America, with an almost sepia-toned slow pace to everything. Some towns have pretty much stayed the same since the 50’s. For most, a little church on the hill dotted with some old houses constitute the town’s center. I remember the largest social gatherings in these little New England towns were the occasional church suppers (not “dinners”) every now and again. Clam chowder served among a sea of plaid and L.L. Bean jackets. It was charming indeed.
However, it didn’t take long for the charm to fade. By the time I was a teenager, I was ready to go. My wish was granted when circumstances propelled me to another state full of oddities - and lots of sunshine - Florida. Needless to say, this transition couldn’t have been more of a stark contrast. When I first arrived, I wondered how any human being could decide to settle there before air conditioning existed. After a couple years cleaning pools and boat fishing, the state grew on me, my accent dulled and I adjusted to the daily thunderstorms.
When I reached 18, my old man, who I was living with at the time, made good on his threat to send me out into the workforce. I didn’t know it, but I was about to join the underlying current of directionless youth without a clue of what they were doing, or what they’d become, a staple of my generation.
The synopsis was, it didn’t go so well. I returned to Maine for a short stint of kitchen work in Bar Harbor (during the summer time mind you), had a brief job at a liquor store back in Florida, selling wine to rich, disgruntled, day drinkers with too much time on their hands, a few other jobs, and I was back to square one, cleaning pools and taking in enough chlorine fumes people probably thought I lived in a Y locker room.
It was here I decided something needed to change. I didn’t want to clean pools forever, I wanted a career, not a job. The idea of joining the military was for me about as remote as deciding to join a traveling circus. My father had served, so did a few of my uncles, but I never thought of myself as capable of leading that kind of lifestyle.
Still, anyone who knows me discovers I am no stranger to acting on impulse. I decided to give the Air Force a chance.
It was the best decision I ever made.
Now, I’m still relatively young, at the wise age of 21, but I’m resolute in this proclamation. The results of this profound decision are clear to me. When I joined, I was given a list to rank the jobs I wanted from top to bottom. Most service members are familiar with this method. I began reading up about an odd little career path titled Public Affairs. Well, to me at least, the title “Public Affairs” didn’t sound very appealing. It sounded like what I was doing the past few years, dealing with the affairs of the public, cleaning their pools and selling them wine. I could do without the general public. But then I read more.
There was writing involved-always liked that. Writing angst-filled poems was half of high school for me.
Photography? Pretty cool, though I never picked up an actual camera before.
However, what really convinced me was the fact that I would cover stories from a multitude of Air Force careers. Like a metaphorical sample platter, with each taste furthering my knowledge of the people and missions which make up its foundation.
So I placed it as number one on my list, right above combat controller and pest management- once again I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t long before I got a call from my recruiter who sounded like clam in high water (New England idiom). He informed me I got my number one, Public Affairs. Luck of the Irish I suppose, but to say this was a lucky outcome would be an understatement. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but I just hit the proverbial jackpot.
Reminiscing aside, I have been in the military for a grand whole year now, and I’ve been sampling that platter whole heartily. I think it’s fair to say I’ve accumulated a definitive experience. Well, not really. Haven’t even deployed yet.
What I can say, however, is as I sit here writing this, wearing the uniform of the world’s greatest Air Force, deploying writing methods instilled in me through free training supplied by the military, I feel grateful. Grateful in the truest sense. Thanks to the military, I have branched off from the current of wayward-less youth and joined the mighty river of my brothers and sisters in arms.
If anything sums up my contentment with where I am in my life let it be this-
I get to serve my country while doing what I love. It can’t get much better than this.
By U.S. Air Force Airman William Tracy
Provided through DVIDS
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