by Damon Carr, For New Pittsburgh Courier
On Nov. 11, we observed Veterans Day. Veterans Day is a National Holiday in the United States where we honor veterans of the Armed Forces and military personnel who paid the ultimate price of death while fighting for our country in an effort to protect our freedom and liberty.
On Veterans Day, those of us who are civilians tend to echo the words “Happy Veterans Day” and “Thank you for your service” similar to how we say “God Bless You” when someone sneezes. It’s a matter of expression we heard others say. So we say it too, not fully knowing and understanding why.
I wanted to get a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be enlisted into the Armed Forces. What are some of the benefits, challenges and sacrifices one endures when committing to the military? I decided to enlist the help of my cousin, Chief Master Sergeant Angela Sanders. Angela recently retired from the Air Force at the tender age of 47. As a financial planner, I’m often asked for ideas and strategies on how to retire early. When we say retire early, the typical age people are referring to is 55. Angela did it before 50. Impressive! When speaking to young people I now incorporate Angela’s story, sharing ideas on how to get a free college education and retire young.
The story that follows is a story of a Veteran whom I’m very proud of. You’ll read in her own words how she applied the Air Force slogan, “Aim High” into her decision and fulfillment to serve our country:
“Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio in a low to middle income area there was so much going through my mind on what I would do after high school. Looking at my surrounding neighborhood and seeing limited opportunities I knew I had to eventually leave the area. Graduating at the top of my class the expectation was for me to go to college and get a degree and find a good paying job. Although I had worked extremely hard to position myself for college as well as scholarships, I did not have the desire to go to college. I was looking for something a little more challenging and adventurous while still having the opportunity to grow and develop. I initially went to Youngstown State on a full scholarship. During my second year of college my home was broken into and my brother was nearly killed. This experience devastated me. The next day I made an appointment to see an Air Force recruiter. Six months later I was leaving for San Antonio, Texas, to enter basic training and I never looked back.”
Benefits: “I always had a desire to serve in the military as my uncle who retired from the United States Marines inspired me at a young age. My desire increased as I began to do my own research on everything the military had to offer. I figured that if I joined the military I wouldn’t have to worry about housing, food or medical insurance. Being an athlete in high school, I thought about fitness and health and how this type of career would encourage me to stay on track with maintaining those goals. Lastly, it would give me the opportunity to continue going to college and leave my hometown while seeing other parts of the world. It just made sense to me then. It makes sense to me now. The biggest reward on my decision to join the military is being able to retire young and able after 27 years of service.”
Challenges: “My goal has always been to strive for excellence and take advantage of any opportunity that came my way. As I strived to make it through the ranks there were many barriers and challenges that I had to push through in this male-dominated field. As a young Airman, I didn’t experience much adversity. As I began to move up in rank, the more challenging the struggle became. I experienced both racism and sexism. I was questioned about my efforts provided on a team award. I had a leader fight to have the only two Black women on the team’s names removed. I experienced having complaints being submitted about me not knowing how to read or write. How is that possible when I graduated from high school as the valedictorian and I sat as the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force? In addition, many of us go through mental and psychological issues due to the many things we experience down range as well as abroad.”
Sacrifices: “Although I don’t regret my overall decision of joining the military and making it a career, this career path definitely requires sacrifices that you may regret. My number one regret and major sacrifice was having to leave my son and deploy and then making a long-term decision for him to remain with my mother. I am so thankful that my mother was available to take my son and provide him with a stable home while I continued my military career. As I look back, I don’t believe this was the best decision for him long-term. I really needed to be in his life physically to provide the mental, spiritual and social stability he needed during this time. As he has grown older, I have realized how this decision adversely impacted him. Many people do not realize the negative effect on the family members that support those who serve. They deserve to be celebrated just as much as military members due to the sacrifices that they have to make along the way.
Overall I am very pleased with my career! I’m overly thankful that I was able to serve and survive. Many of my fellow service members have given the ultimate sacrifice. I salute them and their families! They will always remain in my prayers.
As I began my Air Force journey 27 years ago, my goal was to serve four years, separate and utilize my Montgomery GI Bill to finish my college degree. My plans changed when I hit my three-year mark and I decided to reenlist. Today, I am proud to say while serving my country I was able to obtain my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. I’m equally proud to say that I sit among the top one percent as a retired Chief Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force.”
Happy Veterans Day to those who served! We appreciate your service!! To the families who endured all that goes along with having a relative enlisted in the Armed Forces, we appreciate sacrifice!
(Damon Carr, Money Coach be reached @ 412-216-1013 or visit his website @ www.damonmoneycoach.com)