Age Is Just A Number When Serving
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Samuel Becker
January 10, 2022
My heart feels like it is beating out of my chest while I wait for the shuttle to Air Force Basic Training to pick me up from the Air Force recruiters office in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. I try to hold back the tears as I sit in my car with my wife, Amber, and two young sons, Leon and Samuel.
We start to sing our goodnight song that we sing to each other every night while we wait for the shuttle.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when the skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you so please don't take my sunshine away,” we sang in what little harmony we could muster.
The shuttle pulls into the parking lot and my wife starts to cry. I step out of the vehicle, grab my bags, and try to explain to my boys why I’m leaving.
“I’m going to be gone for a while to train on how to fight monsters, but I need you to be strong for me,” I said in a loving tone.
As a family, we hug one last time before I step into the shuttle.
As soon as I was out of the view of my family, I took one last deep breath and broke down in tears.
I arrived at the 322nd Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, at 2 a.m. when everyone was asleep. When I found an empty bunk to lay down in, I paused and looked around at all the beds filled with strangers.
“This will be my team for the next eight weeks,” I thought to myself.
Waking up the next morning, I quickly realized that I was older than all but one of the other trainees. The majority of them looked like they had just finished high school, while I was 28 years old.
I knew I wouldn't be able to connect with most of them.
* * *
“Grab your phones now!” yelled my Military Training Instructor. “You will have two minutes to give your family your address for mail! If you mess up, that's your fault!”
After grabbing all of our phones in a scared rush we went back to our lockers.
I turned my phone on and called my wife.
“Oh my god, honey!” she answered in an excited but worried tone.
“I can’t talk,” I said with a lump in my throat. “Get a pen and paper now. You have to write down my address.”
Due to my age, I knew I had to remain calm and collected in front of all these kids, but it was not easy.
As my wife frantically searched for pen and paper, I heard my two sons in the background.
“Is that daddy?” my boys asked excitedly. “I want to talk to him!” they cried.
Knowing that I couldn't talk to them while they were crying for me was one of the most emotionally challenging moments of my life. The lump in my throat was painful as tears filled my eyes.
“I have the pen and paper!” my wife exclaimed.
Letters sent to U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Samuel Becker during basic military training at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida. The letters were received in August 2020 at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Samuel Becker - January 6, 2022)
“Thirty seconds!” screamed my MTI.
I told her the address hoping that she heard everything correctly.
“I love you, please take care of the boys,” I said as my MTI started the five-second countdown.
I ended the call and sealed my phone up in the plastic baggy before dumping it into the bucket, not knowing the next time I'd get to speak to my family.
While holding in my emotions, I knew none of the young wingmen around me would understand what I was going through.
* * *
The day finally came for mail. Me and the other trainees piled into the dayroom.
I sat silently in the front row waiting for my name to be called.
“Please let me have mail,” I thought to myself.
“Becker!” shouted my MTI.
Hurrying to grab my mail, I sat down and started to open it.
“Becker!” my MTI yelled again.
I grabbed the envelope and went to sit down again but my MTI told me to wait and then continued to lay down letter after letter.
I ended up with five letters.
Tears burned my eyes as I pulled out photos from my oldest son Leon's fourth birthday party.
All of the emotions since I left hit me like a truck as soon as I saw the pictures.
I broke down crying, soaking my letters with tears.
“I am alone here,” I thought to myself.
Moments later, I felt an arm reach around and hold me, then another, and another. When I was able to clear the tears from my eyes, I noticed three of my wingmen had put down their own mail to come over and hold me.
No words were said, but I realized that no words needed to be said. I was surrounded by wingmen 10 years younger than me, but we were a team no matter the age or circumstance.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, I was not alone.
Going through the rest of Basic Military Training, I came to terms that it was not just me holding up the world, but we all held it up together as one.
One year later, I am at my first duty station at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida.
In my shop I work with Airmen five to eight years younger than me, but I lean on them and trust them no matter what because I learned a valuable lesson in BMT – age is just a number.
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