Learning, growing within the Reserve Triad

Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. -- Standing in a sea of hundreds of newly enlisted Airmen four years ago, I realized long gone were the days of being a simple civilian. At that moment, I proudly embraced becoming a Citizen Airman.

The beginning of my military career was shaky, as I constantly redefined my role between work and family. I would learn who and what I was truly capable of as a daughter, reservist and manager, but most importantly, I would find the answer to a key question: how should I best invest my time amongst my three roles?

Throughout the eight and a half weeks that I spent in basic military training, I learned how to march, salute and even shave minutes off my run time. I learned true teamwork and the Air Force rank structure. Learning this was crucial; I respected those ranked higher than me with something that might have mimicked fear.

This nervous respect followed me to my first unit at the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base. Before arriving at my unit, however, I interacted with mainly enlisted military members. I encountered very few officers and the times when I did, they received a salute and a nervously jumbled greeting. Even during my time in technical school for public affairs training I rarely interacted with officers or noncommissioned officers.

Standing in what would become my office space during my drill weekends and upcoming seasonal training, I spoke shyly and softly with my boss, then a captain and chief of wing public affairs.

Unsure of what to say most of the time, I recognized I was not the same person in uniform as I was in civilian clothes. And thus years of struggling with self-identity began.

I was a bag of nerves for the first couple of years at my unit. On drill weekends I was sometimes required to interview officers and NCOs. I understood this was part of my job and knew I couldn't just avoid every officer I needed to speak with, but it was still intimidating.

Where did my outspoken and confident self go on my drill weekends? Why did my suddenly shy demeanor become painfully hard to overcome when I needed to conduct an interview? How was I able to speak with my bosses at my civilian job with no problem but withdraw into myself when I needed to speak with someone ranked above me? The next few years I pondered those questions repeatedly.

Until recently, I blamed external factors like a busy work schedule, school or something silly like a break up. Eventually, I understood that the stool that should support me was uneven.

Reservists have what is called a Reserve Triad that comprises our family, civilian employers and Air Force career. For me, my civilian employers took the bulk of the weight. I enjoyed and lived for the spontaneity of the retail world. I was constantly on the job, even during my drill weekends.

I took pride in being a manager and was very good at it. However, transitioning from someone who called the shots and was the go-to person at my civilian job, to being the lowest ranking person in the public affairs office, was a hard adjustment. The three- hour drives from my home to Patrick AFB also started to take a toll; I tended to work the night prior to my drill weekends, and I was no closer to being a morning person as I was to being able to fly.

At one point I questioned my future as a reservist. My naive and selfish 22-year-old self was willing to throw away a great experience and career because I could not find balance among the components of my triad.

The officers and NCOs in my office took me under their wings and showed me the rewards of being a reservist. I had opportunities given to me that others could only fathom. I worked in an award-winning office with the best examples of outstanding Airmen.

Over time, my naïve and selfish thoughts slowly melted away, and I grew up as an individual. With the assistance of my military and domestic family, I attempted to balance my triad.

I spoke with my mother and brothers about the lack of support I felt they gave and how it was her push that assisted in my decision to join in the first place. A simple talk was all it took, and I was one-third of the way to balancing my triad.

My talk with those I worked with in the 920th RQW was met positively. They sat down, one by one with me and allowed me to say my piece, and together we came up with ways to help me excel in my career field as well as a reservist.

Finally it was time to elevate and distribute the weight from my beloved civilian employer. Within a few weeks of a newly appointed store manager, I knew that I needed to refocus my energy.

I found a job as a human resources representative that had a more stable schedule, which helped tremendously with my transition from civilian to reservist one weekend a month. I no longer dreaded my three-hour drive or early morning work days.

At the end of the day, once the lines of communication were opened, I appreciated that although I might have considered giving up on myself and doubted my capabilities, my domestic and Reserve families never did.

Reflecting on the past four years that I've served in the Reserve, the biggest lesson I've taken thus far is the importance of communication among all three components. Without a balance, the issues that may be present in one component will eventually spill into the rest causing the lack of productivity in one if not all areas.

Thankfully, my Reserve Triad is healthy and balanced due mainly to the patience of those in all facets of my triad. I am once again living up to the oath I took on June 8, 2010; I am an American Airman, and I will continue to uphold the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.