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First Term Airman - Failing My Way To Success
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson
April 20, 2109

First term Airman ... A term for many Airmen that carries moments of success, failure, disorientation, and most importantly... questions.

Will it be the worst decision of my life, or will it be the starting point of a new and successful career?

Before arriving at my first duty station, I wanted to be the best, but the harsh reality was that I wasn’t. Instead, I was behind the learning curve in my Public Affairs photojournalist technical school.

During the entire course, I walked the fine line between failure and success until two instructors took a chance on me. For five months, I felt alone but those two instructors let me know I wasn’t alone during my times of adversity.

January 17, 2019 - Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson, 39th Air Base Wing photojournalist, reflects about his first assignment at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Thompson explained how he was nervous for his first assignment due to struggling at technical school, but how he ultimately learned to embrace every challenge and to always fail forward. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Kirby Turbak)

At the time, I was also faced with the option to give up and retrain into a different career, but I didn’t because now I knew I had people in my corner rooting for me and I couldn’t let them down. I fought through every negative thought until I decided that I would take control of my situation by showing up and giving my best day in and day out regardless of the outcome.

After barely completing technical school, I boarded the plane and headed to my first duty station, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. I felt my body wind up as if I was a human jack in the box as I boarded the plane. The tension growing throughout my body with each worrying thought. Questions and uncertainty of what to expect plagued me. Will I be able to perform my job, would I fit in with my office or will the separation from my family be too much to bare?

If I had been the perfect Airman in technical school, I don’t think I would have worried, but I had the idea that being perfect was easy before I discovered perfection is simply hard work, learning from failure and persistence.

As if battling my own insecurities were not enough, I arrived at a base where I had to learn the policies and procedures of the wing and our NATO partners.

Observing as I struggled with adjustment, my supervisor instinctively told me not to fear failure because it was a part of learning and that the mission would continue to succeed as she passed a phrase that was once given to her, “As long as the planes are flying the mission is going.” It was hard, but I showed up every day with a positive attitude and ready to learn more until eventually I honed the fundamental skills within my job.

After several months of failure, growth and resilience, I met a captain who taught me the value of extreme ownership, explained my role within the mission and inadvertently broke my job down into steps I could understand.

Not only did she trust me to complete the mission, but she instilled confidence in me, empowered me to do more and never allowed me to fail alone. It was in those moments that every failure and struggle made sense – as if the culmination of each lesson, opportunity and experience completed a missing link.

As I look back on the early stages of my career, I remember feeling embarrassed for struggling, but as I have grown and matured, I realized that those moments and my teammates gave me the strength I needed to be successful.

I know this will not be my last struggle within the Air Force, but the only thing I can control is showing up, embracing the unknown, learning from my mistakes, trying new things and maintaining the mission every single day.

Don’t give up, because you could be just like me, you may have to fail in order to succeed!

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