The four stages of being an Airman

Master Sgt. Jason Davis, 489th Reconnaissance Squadron first sergeant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)

Master Sgt. Jason Davis, 489th Reconnaissance Squadron first sergeant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Everyone who wears the uniform can relate to some key sages in their careers. There is the first stage where we become Airmen either through the "Gateway to the Air Force" at Lackland AFB, Texas, or through one of the various commissioning sources. In that stage, you want to learn all you can, look the best you can in your uniform, and do the small things within your control to the best of your ability. Consider yourself a sponge, soaking up any form of mentoring you can get.

Then, you are onto stage two. You have been around a few years and are learning the ropes. Now, you can talk the talk and are learning how to walk the walk. You have held your own wrenching or mastering the administrative side of the young officer world and you maybe even learned how to make a great cup of coffee for the shop to share. This is the transition from new Airmen to the up and coming go to person in your work center. You still have that internal motivation every day, you love rocking that uniform every day, and you still feel an immense amount of pride. You are part of the team! Now, you start being a bit more selective of your mentors.

Stage three is when you hit the point where you still love your job, maybe could use some new uniforms, but will try and get another month out of the faded ABUs with the small rip in the back pocket that no one can see. Your rater is hounding you to get those bullets accomplished, telling you to volunteer and go to school so that they can check those blocks on your Enlisted Performance Report or Officer Performance Report.

Suddenly, there is this jaded, cynical vibe you feel and you find comfort with others who have allowed this to creep into their souls. You still love serving, but you are now faced with the ever present, "Why do we have to do that" mentality for all the above and beyond "stuff" being asked of you. Oh yeah, most of you have a spouse and a couple children at this stage, so now it's a balancing act, almost to the point of triaging your day, weeks, and months to be able to survive and operate. Here, you are starting to form into a mentor yourself.

Stage four, perhaps the final stage, is the one where you made it to the magic number 20 plus years of honorable service! You have accomplished a feat few will ever have the opportunity to experience. That morning you wake up and go, "I've made it," which is followed by an amazing yet bittersweet feeling. Yes, you have served honorably and given your best to "Uncle Sam" which ensures a nice pension for the rest of your life; yes, the rest of your life. Then, it hits you like a ton of bricks, the uniform that regardless of what stage you were in, you wore proudly for the last 20 years will no longer be what you grab when you roll out of the rack in the morning. Your goal is to train your replacements more so than the other stages. People now look up to you as their stage mentor, their confidant, and their Wingman.

One thing that is in common with all stages is the uniform and service to our country. For the majority, at the fourth stage we have truly embraced what it means to serve. Those that "bleed blue" will tell you how tough it is to hang it up. No matter what, never forget to live in that beloved stage; one where you get goose bumps when the National Anthem plays, where you look forward to looking your best in uniform. Embrace and always re-kindle that feeling you had when you threw your hat in the air as the Thunderbirds flew over at Falcon stadium; the chills and pride you had marching down the bomb run on graduation day. Cherish the honor, pride, and belonging that we get by serving our great nation.

Be proud, seek mentorship, become a mentor, mentor the mentors! FLY-FIGHT-WIN!