My Older, Wiser Self to My Younger, Foolish Self

It’s been 27-years since the U.S. Air Force fired me as an Environmental Health, Medical and Rescue Tech. The day I was discharged, I felt like my world was ending.

Happily, I was wrong.

While my experiences that led up to my dismissal were horrible and emotionally damaging, I survived it…and moved on from it. Recently, I heard a song by Brad Paisley, where his older, wiser self writes a letter to his younger and more foolish 17-year-old self, warning himself not to do various things.

It’s an interesting concept, but I’ve decided I wouldn’t want to write such a letter.

As much as I wished at times that I could go back and correct those event or somehow prove that I was unfairly treated as a younger man, I’ve grown to understand that those events, unpleasant as they were, are a part of what makes me –well, me. And I kind of like me in spite of my tendency to act and react in a stupid way.

And before you start to worry about my having called myself “stupid,” let me give you my quick and dirty definition of the word as it relates to other words we tend to use in its place…

Dumb: When a person is unable to keep the information given to them.   

Ignorant: Never having been given the information in the first place.

Stupid: Having the information but choosing to ignore it and continue anyway.

Somehow, I always mange to find myself in that last category and I can relate it all to the day I was kicked out of the Air Force. The signs were all there and I decided to ignore them and continue on my course of action.

While there were a number of things that led up to my discharge, the biggest was turning my entire department into the Inspector General of the Air Force. Our department was sending myself and another Airman out to missile silos to dump chlorine bleach into the pools of water at the base of these missiles to kill off algae.

The correct thing our department should have done was to remove the missiles, one-by-one, from service and have the engineers fix the cement lining of these water pools called ‘sumps,’ so that the algae wouldn’t grow in them. A cracked lining could lead to a burn-off of all the water, creating a situation where the silo could experience a burn-down.

A burn-down is where the facility gets so hot it cooks the missile rendering it useless and worse cooks the two-man crew locked into the control center. And there is no way they can escape.

To me, it appeared critical that the job be done right. Too bad my commanding office and NCOs ‘ (non-commissioned offers) didn’t see it the way I did. So I took the matter to a higher authority.

What happened next calls for some speculation on my part, but I think somebody in  my chain-of-command got a heads-up from the IG, giving my name to them or perhaps they jus’ figured out it was me.

Yeah, it was unfair as my name was to remain confidential but that didn’t happen.

Next thing I know, I’m asked to house sit for a Staff Sergeant and his wife few days before. I was to go on leave. The plan then was to surrender the house key to a Senior Airman and he ‘d take care of the house.

While at home, visiting my family, I called my friend and work-buddy and he says I better get back, because I’m being accused of theft. I jumped the next military flight I could find back to base and found out he was dead on the money.

It would take the administration at the base 27 days to process me out of active duty. And I never did get the court-martial I requested. Instead the charges were reduced to “misappropriation of personal items,” though I never saw all the things I had reportedly taken.

In the end, I wouldn’t trade the sickly feeling I felt throughout the process or the complete and utter sense of hopelessness I felt each night at lights-out. My grandpa had a saying that I recall to this day,  “I’d rather be wronged for doing right, than wrong for not doing right.”

Instead, I’d throw that warning letter away without a second thought as I’ve learned that ‘stupid,’ ain’t always a bad thing.

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