How in the world did this story start over 16 years ago? Like most people, life has been flying by incredibly quickly for us. It seems like only moments ago I was overseas, away from my family and figuring out who I was and suddenly, here we are… sitting in our house in Kansas getting ready for the week ahead with kids in school and Patience in the Air Force full time while I’m getting ready to report for my first day with the Kansas Air National Guard. Here’s the short version of how we got here.
In 2001 I (Joe) walked into an Army recruiting office, talked to someone who overwhelmed the heck out of me and decided there was no way I was joining the military. This could have been a pretty easy way to end this story but God always has bigger plans in play.
A few months later, in December of 2001, I had a horrible day at work, quit my job when I saw my supervisor at the end of my shift, and walked into an Air Force recruiting office. At the time it didn’t seem so crazy. I’m sure everyone will understand when I blame 19 year old ignorance. I had no idea that joining the Air Force wasn’t that easy, I had no idea that I would feel violated walking out of the MEPS office (everyone does by the way, there’s not much of a story to share here) and I had no idea that I’d be waiting over 6 months after that initial meeting with Technical Sergeant Coffee to leave for Basic Military Training. All I wanted was to have a change of scenery, I wanted to feel like my adult life was starting and that I wasn’t wallowing in the day to day monotony that I had known for so long already in the retail industry.
A few months, some changed plans and funny basic training stories later and I was off to Turkey as a “fully qualified” Photographer Apprentice. This would turn out to be one of the best parts of my entire military career. Sometimes people are thrown into sink or swim situations and in my case I was able to swim. During the 15 months I was there I photographed things that hadn’t happened in decades, I was awarded 2 achievement medals, one of which wasn’t even from the Air Force, and I got to see things I had heard about in church growing up in person. It was an amazing experience and one I hope that everyone who joins the military can have as well. I did a lot of growing up while I was there, not so much in a settling down kind of way, I was never wild, but more in a figuring out who I was and gaining some confidence kind of way. It was the best thing that could have happened to me as a 20 year old kid.
Following my time in Turkey I was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Fortunately, the Air Force has a program where if you complete a short tour, my time in Turkey, you get to fill out a list of bases that you really want to go to and they’ll prioritize your request. No, this is not the typical recruiter tool that turns out to be too good to be true. It’s a real thing and Luke AFB was one of the bases on my list. A few months after I arrived there I met Patience and then a few months later we were married. 9 months later to be exact, and no, Abbee was actually born 4 years after we were married. 😉
At the end of my enlistment, we decided that we wanted to move to Washington and I separated from the Air Force. Back to retail I went along with school and in a few more years, kids.
This is where the story starts to get a bit different. Not as weird as it’ll get with everything that happened recently but still, not the typical military path.
After I had been out of the Air Force for about 3 and a half years I really started to miss it. I had a good job, we owned a house, I was going to school, our photography business was just starting, etc. Things were good but I really missed certain parts of the military. Maybe it was feeling like I belonged to something bigger than myself, I don’t know… At almost 4 years to the day I joined the Washington Air National Guard.
During that 6 years we saw a lot of changes. Noah was born, I had stopped going to school and our business was getting really busy, really fast. What had started in 2009 was operating at an almost full time level by 2013 but somehow we managed to continue working at normal full time jobs while doing family sessions and weddings in the evenings and weekends as well as driving 4 hours to the base to complete my military drill time one weekend a month. By 2016 we had hit critical mass and something had to go.
At the time, everything was pointing towards us being full time as photographers. The money was good, the life was good and the growth potential seemed like we were still pretty far from hitting a limit. The only problem was that it was taking an incredible amount of time away from our family. Like I said, we worked during the evenings and on the weekends. We handled admin stuff during the day but the bulk of our work when the kids were home from school. It’s hard to say, maybe it took longer than it should have for us to realize that we were on the wrong path, or maybe we realized it exactly when we were supposed to. Either way, we started to dial our business back and I went back to work in retail while we figured out what we should be doing. It felt crazy that we were doing this in our 30’s but the writing was on the wall, we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing.
Over the last couple of years we have looked into a lot of options in law enforcement and other public service jobs but in the end one of our backup plans, the craziest backup plan, was the one that we ended up pursuing.
Patience joined the Air Force.
It was a rough 6 months while she went through basic training and her finance school to be a budget analyst but we got through. Abbee, Noah and I missed her like crazy and at times it was almost unbearable but I’m extremely thankful for the time I got with the kids. In some ways it felt like I was able to make up for all of the time I had been gone for work but the most important part is that I was able to be there for them while Patience was gone.
This definitely isn’t the road most travelled. Most people don’t get out of Active Duty and take a 4 year break in service followed by 6 years in the Air National Guard. Even fewer people get out after 2 enlistments only to follow that up with their spouse joining the military. And… as of only 10 days ago, most people don’t have 3 separate enlistments in the military without a single re-enlistment while they are still in the service. We are a military family in every sense now. We get to experience the active duty side and the potential of moving regularly while also experiencing the Air National Guard where you meet people who have spent 30 years of their life dedicated to one base or sometimes a single unit.
It’s hard to say where we’ll go from here but for the time being, we’ll be in Kansas. In 3, 4 or even 5 years we may find ourselves somewhere else. I guess that’s just a part of the military but it sure is an exciting part of it.