Oh, hello again . . . sorry about that. I wish I had an excuse for completely ignoring my blog for 5 months, but . . . I don’t. And since I’m no longer deployed and don’t feel like keeping up the old theme, I’ve revamped and renewed my ideas for content. There will probably be the occasional deployed story or lesson, sprinkled in with the rest of everyday life, and don’t worry – I’ll probably get another sunny, sandy vacation next year.
Being home, in short, is amazing. I get to run with my dog, cook whatever I want for dinner, curl my hair and go to movies with my friends, all while wearing something besides Air Force-sanctioned attire. The novelty of being back in the United States has certainly worn off by now, but the appreciation for it has not, and I hope it never does. Being in the military means having more than a few friends deployed at any given time, which keeps the reality of living in the desert fresh in everyone’s minds, maintaining a stark contrast between that simple, regimented, tan, and drastically different world and the one that most people take for granted. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is impossible for a person to truly appreciate where she is without at least seeing, and possibly experiencing, the alternative. For that opportunity, I’m truly grateful – grateful for being born where I was, receiving the education I did, and living the life I currently have.
Being deployed taught me a great deal about myself, about life, and about how to interact with and relate to other people. In fact, as I write this, a “Deployment Lessons Learned” blog post might be in the not-too-distant future. Removing ourselves from our comfort zones (or being forcibly removed in my experience) stretches us, grows us. At the ripe old age of 27, I feel wiser. And I also feel I have a great deal more to learn about this race I’m running. If I ever go back (and I probably will), I will eagerly anticipate the new insights and the unique ways that God will use to teach me more about life.
In March, I completed my Masters thesis, and was suddenly inundated with hours of free time to spend as I pleased, something I had not encountered since beginning my freshman year at the Academy. Arguably, it had been longer than that, due to my over-achiever habits in high school. There were days when my car became my own personal locker room as I changed clothes in between school and work and then again between work and soccer practice, usually stuffing a sandwich in my mouth in between and returning home well past twelve hours after I had left in the morning. In “college” (I use that term loosely), I took the full Political Science course load plus minors in Spanish and Philosophy, led a reconditioning program for cadets who had failed the PT test, taught soaring to other students who, like me, had never touched the controls of an aircraft prior to jumping into that first sailplane, and held various leadership positions, including commanding a group containing a thousand cadets. Instead of taking advantage of my nine free months in between reporting for duty at my first base and actually starting pilot training, I began my Masters degree, loading up with twelve credit hours per semester (nine credits qualifies students for full-time status). Then came pilot training, a full year of eating, sleeping, and pooping flying, with twelve-hour work days followed by four hours of studying and a half hour of eating before collapsing into bed, only to do it again the next day. I had three free months in between the two halves of pilot training while I moved to Corpus Christi, and how did I fill it? Six more Masters credits, of course. My first real free time came after my graduation from pilot training as I moved from Corpus Christi to Little Rock, during which time I ached for something to fill my time, something to study, something productive to throw myself into until I started training on the mighty C-130H. Once I did, even that training wasn’t enough for me; my boredom caused me to enroll in another Masters course even in the middle of my flying schoolhouse (for all you future pilots out there, I wouldn’t recommend doing that). My story after the schoolhouse remained the same, throwing myself into flying and more Masters courses and renewing my Spanish studies in preparation for various language programs . . . The first two and a half months of my deployment comprised the last half of my thesis course, and then, suddenly . . .
All was quiet.
It was mid-deployment and I was stuck in one of the worst places in the world, with no dishes, no dog, no laundry, no paperwork, and now, no school. I flew every other day, and those days were long, sometimes as much as sixteen hours from show time to mission debrief. But my off-days were obligation-free. I typically spent four hours at the gym, an hour studying with my aircraft commander, and maybe a couple of hours watching a movie with my crew . . . but what to do with the rest?
And that’s when I learned the value of simply spending my free time the way I want to spend it. Some of you might laugh to hear me say that, thinking, “Katie, that’s not very profound. If you’re so much wiser, you might want to come up with some better material.” Maybe you’re right. But for me, it was a huge step of growth, the ability to entertain myself, and not with the things that the Air Force had told me were important, but instead with things that I enjoyed and that were intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically stimulating for me.
The decision to resume this blog was born of that realization. I had something of a career crisis in the desert (as I think any normal human being would – being halfway through a long slog in the desert and realizing you might be back within the next year, and then again the year after that, and after that . . . it’s disheartening at best and a real kick in the gut at worst), and I started to contemplate the age-old question: if I could do anything in the world right now, if there were no obstacles in my path and I knew I couldn’t fail, what would it be? And the answer, brought to mind through a series of events that I might outline for you in a future post, was simple: I would write.
It’s a hobby I’ve had since a young girl, when I would visit my dad’s office and his employees would set me up with a typewriter (yes, a real typewriter, with the satisfying clack-clack of every keystroke and the requirement to reset the platen with each new line) and I would create new worlds, usually starring my stuffed bear Wesley and detailing his many adventures.
I remember vividly my mother’s purchase of an electric word processor (Anybody else remember those? Short-lived piece of equipment . . .), watching my creations print onto paper lined with perforated and hole-punched edges and then grudgingly surrendering use of the machine to my mother whenever she needed it for actual work.
I published a poem in our high school magazine and two stories in a national publication for teens, and wrote for fun, for release, for expression of those things that were buried deep within me but somehow found clarity when I put pen to paper.
I continued to write through college, but my dramatic style began to fade into technical engineering and scholarly political science essays as academic commitments dominated my time on top of the rest of the aforementioned obligations. My parents used to scold me for reading at the dinner table (and in the car and in bed and at sports games and anywhere, really); I actually read and enjoyed the assigned literature during high school in addition to those books I chose to read on my own. As I grew older and busier, my pleasure reading took a dramatic dip, further contributing to my loss of creative writing capability. And then there was pilot training . . . and then a Masters degree . . . and then I pulled out my computer to write again and discovered that I had forgotten how.
I slogged through those first few blog posts and on-the-side scriptural exploits, forcing what had once come so easily. There were times I would write a sentence and then stare at the utter failure of an attempt to communicate my ideas. But slowly, through reading for fun (!) and good old-fashioned practice, my old flare for and love of writing returned.
Lucky for me, writing is one of the few hobbies/careers that I can pursue while still committed to serving in the Air Force. My current status as a student (I’m transferring to a shinier model of the C-130, more on that later) has the potential to suck up every minute of every day, something I have allowed in the past; thanks to my enlightening deployment, I refuse to let it happen again. Since my career crisis, I have mellowed and been able to look for the good in where I am, even if I aim to leave the Air Force at the earliest opportunity. In fact, I have determined that such an attitude – making the best of where I am and what I’m doing, striving always to honor God with my gifts and my position – is essential to running this race with perseverance. So no, I will not neglect my C-130 studies, now or as long as I remain a pilot. But neither will I allow it to consume my entire being and free time. I will continue to enjoy the things I love – my dog, running, biking, swimming, and writing. I hope that doing so will make me a better leader, a better friend, a better follower of God, and in general a better person.
And so . . . the blog returns. Look for future lessons-learned dissertations, and feel free to tell me if you forget how tall I actually am because I spend so much time on my soapbox. My goal isn’t to preach to you; it’s to share and to write and yes, to entertain.