How a Kicked-Out Zoomie Showed Me How to be a Chief

There were two former Air Force Academy cadets in my first unit. They’d been removed from the Academy for “conduct unbecoming” and were paying back a service commitment as aircraft maintainers. One openly hated it, the other served honorably.

I couldn’t have cared less.

I’d just lost my rank in an underage drinking incident and was truly lost for the first time in my life. No focus, no future, and no hope.

On a particularly bad day, I asked JJ (the honorable one) to help me. How could I improve? Could I get the rank back? What were the rules/timelines?

And he changed my life.

On a 5×7″ piece of paper, he drew the ranks E-1 – E-9 and the years I was first eligible, leaving a portion blank. The blank part, he advised, was for me to work on. Write education, deployments, accomplishments, etc.

And 15 years later (to the day), I checked off the last stripe.

The paper is on a shelf in my office. A reminder of belief. And a zoomie who wouldn’t quit.


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