Career progression: Dare to Dream

How does one decide what to do in her life? Whenever offering career advice, people always say, “Do something you love, because that way you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.” It’s sound advice, really.

I’ve had a few jobs to date. Every kid starts out with his or her basic starter jobs in high school and college. Most work in retail, customer service, or the fast food industry. My first job was food service at Hershey’s Chocolate World, in Hershey, PA. Believe me, it was not as fabulous as it sounds, but at least I didn’t work at Hershey Park like many of my friends did. I told myself I wouldn’t bring myself to do that. Most of them worked as ride operators, people who ran the games, and even the costume characters. At the very least, I was in the luxury of air conditioning and didn’t have to worry about sunburn and heat exhaustion. Yes, I still had to worry about tourists and their whining and I had quite a lame uniform, I’d say more terrible than the ones in the Park because I had to wear a hideous below the knee skirt with pantyhose, tennis shoes, an apron, and a scarf, but at the end of the day, it was still better than working at Hershey Park.

I’ve also had the regular retail jobs like working at Bath and Body Works and a Dockers Outlet and I’ve waitressed and several different restaurants while in college. I’ve had tables walk out on me and I’ve had to put up with drunk people and I’ve had arrogant, ignorant, pushy, overbearing, sexist, morons who think they know everything try to argue their way around me. I didn’t put up with it, but I didn’t fall for their shenanigans either. I simply listened to their chatter and let it roll off my back. Then I got my manager and let him deal with it. Most of the time, it was only at one of the restaurants, and of course, that was in Hershey, where the tourist were, and they thought they were entitled to anything and everything they wanted. I understand the mentality of, “the customer is always right,’ but sometimes the customer is an asshole.

After my sophomore year in high school, I had some kind of epiphany that I wanted to do something sports related as my career. I was a two-sport athlete at the time, playing both field hockey and softball. Neither of those really entitled me to any kind of professional sports career like I could have had if I’d have played tennis or golf (thanks a lot Parents, you got me into the wrong sports!), but I still wanted to do something within the athletic realm. As a female, that didn’t give me too many options. Then I realized that I could be an Athletic Trainer. I could be that person who runs out on the field when a person is injured and access the situation, fix up a player and save the day! I’d be like Batman! without the mask, of course. Sounded good to me.

After that, I made every effort to work towards my goal. I took all the sciences and health courses my small school offered. I worked as a student trainer both my junior and senior year and took a student trainer course for potential high school student trainers at the local community college. One of the teachers was the Athletic Trainer from my high school, Adam. I worked with Adam in our training room for hours before, during, and after practices, doing fun and not-so-fun work that trainers do. I was around all the teams constantly. I studied anatomy and Adam quizzed me. I taped ankles, wrists, and various other body parts. By the end of my senior year, I was accepted into a highly competitive program for Athletic Training at a state school with only 22 other freshmen after two rounds of interviews.

I attended West Chester University for three years. Sadly, after going through the paces, the courses, the daily grind of college, I decided that Athletic Training wasn’t for me. I had to take Anatomy and Physiology I twice. I did well in the laboratory section but the Lecture was a bore. The professor couldn’t teach. His entire lecture consisted of a power point slide show and he barely taught any of the material. Anatomy and Physiology II was even more unbearable, and to make matters worse, it was an 8:00 AM class. I had to retake that too. Just like the first A&P class, however, I did extremely well in the lab. Chemistry was also the same. I was acing my labs. I never got to retake that though, because by my third year, I’d had enough. I felt like a complete and utter failure. Here was something I had spent the last 5-6 years of my life planning and hoping for and it was going up in flames. I was depressed and I had no idea what to do.

At this time, my ex-fiancé had told me about his idea to go into the Army, because not only do they give you training, but they also pay for your college as well. Another friend of mine, Angela, was going into the Air Force, and she convinced me to go see her recruiter, Tracy, because she wanted me to see what being in the military as a female would be like. Now, I NEVER in my life considered joining the military, but I had always wondered if I could make it through Basic Training. As a former athlete, I figured I probably could, but I never knew if I could handle all the mental anguish associated with all the yelling and screaming from the drill sergeants. Besides, they deprive you of a lot of things there too.

I talked to Tracy and she asked me, “What would you want to do?” I told her I had NO idea. She asked me to look through a book, understanding that, of course, my job would be limited by a test called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). She asked if I had ever taken one, and I said that I had, but it had been in my sophomore or junior year in high school, and she said that it would have expired by then. So I determined out of the list that I wanted to do something in Intelligence. I picked a position as Weather Apprentice. It sounded interesting and the position had a lot of really great places to travel to, like Aviano AFB, Italy. A few days before I was supposed to go to the Processing Station for my ASVAB, Tracy called me and asked me if I could come in to talk to her. She asked me if I had ever learned a foreign language. I told her that I had taken three years of French in high school. She asked if I would be interested in becoming a Linguist. She showed me the job description and I said, “Sure, why not.” I got a bonus from signing up for it too, just like the other job, so I didn’t lose out. The only change was that I had to take yet another test, called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB), to determine my potential for learning languages quickly. Tracy drove me to the processing station for both of my tests and I scored well enough to be able to do whatever job I wanted, and take whatever language I wanted. I didn’t really care about it going into it, but it sounded interesting enough and I was excited.

I went to Basic Training and made it through without much difficulty. While there, I selected my language and got my first choice, Russian. For the record, my second choice was Chinese. After Basic Training, I went to Monterey, CA to learn my language and did well enough through the first five modules of learning. I was maintaining a B- average. Anything less than an 80 was failing so I was barely hanging on by the skin of my teeth, but I was still “getting it,” I just couldn’t make it reflect on my quizzes and tests. Then one night I went to the Enlisted Club on base and everything changed.

I was walking around the corner and someone accosted me! They actually body checked me and I went down like Sidney Crosby (without the whining and crying and passing out). I did, however, black out, and held on to the wall for dear life until I got my vision back. My head had gone into the wall but my shoulder had managed to miss because I was going around the corner. It was an odd angle and it was rather fortuitous for me because I managed to avoid a good bit of injury, such as a broken arm or something worse, but what I did end up with was a massive headache and a concussion, as the doctor on base told me the following Monday. I tried to attend classes for a few days, but as I had blurry vision, I was unable to do any of my reading homework, read any of my vocabulary words to learn them, and without those, I couldn’t do the listening homework that involved the words that I was supposed to learn. Within two days, I was extremely far behind in my class. I visited my Main Training Manager in my Squadron and explained the difficulty and told him the troubles I was having. I was doing all that I could but I couldn’t keep up! On a personal level, I didn’t want to fail at something again. The decision came down that they the higher-ups would take me out of class for about a month to let me get over my injury, give me some “time off” and let me work night CQ, and when the next class came through around time that I was in class, they’d insert me in with them and I’d give it another go. Sounded good to me.

So that’s just what they did. I was worried about getting back into class because the teachers in the new class were a little tougher than my old teachers so I had to be at the top of my game, but luckily, when I was put back into class, everything we were doing was just review. I was getting all A’s. I was confident in my abilities that I would do just fine, but in the back of my head concerned that when we came around to the point where I had been taken out of class, that I would do poorly again and I would fail again and make a fool out of myself. Module Five came and went. I maintained my A average. I figured that it had to do with my hard work and that I must have learned the information after all. When I did well throughout Mod. Six, I began to question my own abilities. I never waivered in my abilities. I was doing a few things differently in my studying tactics for vocabulary but when it came down to it, the only real difference was getting hit in the head. Perhaps I had the sense knocked into me! Whatever it was, I was grateful for it and throughout the rest of my course and through the end of testing when I took my Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and scored a 2+ in Listening and a 2+ in reading and got a 2 on my Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), I was more than happy with my “sudden” improvement over my B- average of before my concussion. I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways.

I was slated for a job in San Antonio, TX where I would work translating aircraft communications daily. I enjoyed my job but I didn’t think it was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. To improve myself, once I became certified on my position, I went with the normal progression of things. I later because a tester and was able to perform the certification tests given to the trainees on the position where I worked. More time passed and I was later deemed a SME, or Subject Matter Expert, at which point, one becomes “indispensable,” and it becomes very difficult to move to another shop to do another job. I was looking for career progression at this point and I would have liked to move somewhere else. I had just had my second divorce and also a baby and a release from shiftwork into a job that worked Monday-Friday with regular day hours was looking really nice right about then.

It just so happened that I was next on the block to go to the next shop and I got my opportunity, but before I was there for very long, I was taken away because I was volunteered/voluntold for another job: Russian Training Manager. I would be in charge of the education and training for all the Russian positions at this facility. It was a billet for someone one-two ranks higher than me but I was up for the challenge. It sounded awesome. I dove right in and started learning as much as I could.

I started with the basics of what I needed to teach people coming straight to the base from tech school before they even needed to know what to mission they’d be assigned. Then I’d narrow down their teachings to mission essential important information. Then I’d send them to their mission and set them up with their trainer, a training folder, and get them started. However, there was a big flaw in MY training. I was lacking in my own training of a particular part of one of our portions of the Russian mission. So I had to go back into training again and learn that portion of the mission. I was given the bare minimum of what I needed to know and a very minimal stupid test. I failed, because I had no idea what they did and how to do their job.  So I was given a second chance, this time going from cradle to grave, within every step of their training process and taking their certification test. I failed a stupid section that I didn’t know about because I didn’t take it that way the first time. So I failed a second time because I was held to standards that weren’t known to me the first time. When I raised a stink about it, I was the one who looked incompetent, not the one who was supposed to be training me. I, needless to say, lost my shit. I got extremely depressed. I was a single mom, newly divorced, and after EVERYTHING that I did, from college until now, I have been made to look like an idiot. High school was the last time I felt intelligent.

My unit transferred me to the Orderly Room, to work with the Unit Fitness Program and help organize and file papers until I transferred bases. The one connection I made was with a man I dated for a month. He was first a friend with whom I used to go to movies all the time and after my divorce we decided to try dating. We broke up because the relationship wasn’t going to last because I was leaving and we both knew it, so it was doomed from the beginning, but we sure had fun when we were together. I hated to see it end. I tried to tell him that we could have seized the day and enjoyed every minute while it lasted, but that wasn’t how he saw it. He broke things off with two months until my departure.

I moved to Washington, DC and tried to make the transition to become an Armenian Linguist. That didn’t work out so well. The unit there wasn’t planned out so well. There was one unit from each branch of service and the “commander” was an Army Colonel. My supervisor was a Technical Sgt, an E-6, in the AF. When I was in class one week in October, he was on leave, and my daughter, who was two at the time, got very sick. She had symptoms that would not allow her to attend day care on base, to include fever. So I had to stay out of class to be with her at home. I didn’t take her to the doctor because the day care sent her home with those symptoms and had a record of it. They said you can’t bring her back until the fever breaks. I alerted my teacher, a civilian, and my class leader, also a civilian, of the situation, and they said they noted my absence and my reasons. I also contacted the teacher. All people had been notified. Well the following week, my daughter was better and they called me from my unit. They asked why I hadn’t been in class. I told them why and said that I would be returning that day, because my daughter was better. They told me to come into the unit office and when I got there they told me I was AWOL and I had Failure to Go written all over me. I hadn’t shown up for duty because I didn’t get a quarters slip for my daughter when she was sick, if she was, in fact, sick.  They pulled me from class, made me work in the base gym (in their words, up to 45 days) for 9 MONTHS while my case was heard because they ended up trying to kick me out of the Air Force with a General discharge!!!

Now if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been a rather cool, calm, collected person throughout my life. I don’t fight when the opportunity isn’t worth it. I didn’t fight back as a waitress when a table got belligerent. However, I didn’t give up when college got the best of me; I found another option and went into it with my head held high. I may not have mentioned this, but after my daughter’s father left me, my second ex-husband, I kept going and showed up to work and took care of my baby and in addition to that, I made sure that he couldn’t see her anymore because he was a neglectful father. I was going to be damned if I gave up on myself when the devil came knocking on my door, YET AGAIN, and I didn’t stand and fight and do something about it. Those YOU-KNOW-WHATs in my unit and at the gym were working together to make my life a living Hell. They didn’t give me daytime hours so that I could use the on base daycare facility while I worked at the gym. Luckily, my parents, who lived 2.5 hours away were willing to raise my daughter for 9 months while I was going through this crap! Then, when I overcame that obstacle, they wouldn’t give me consecutive days off so I could drive to their house to see her. I didn’t care if it was Saturday and Sunday or Tuesday and Wednesday! All that mattered was that I got to see her and hold her. I was missing her growing up and they were taking that away from me! But I wasn’t going to give up.  After everything was said and done, I got what I wanted. I guess they just got tired of my tenacity. They knew they had to put up with me. I can be a hard bitch to deal with sometimes. That can be a tough lesson to learn. I got my Honorable Discharge and separated from the Air Force June 30, 2007.

….to be continued…..

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