More than just words

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Lee
  • 4th Civil Engineer Squadron
A few weeks ago, my son asked me a question concerning our enlistment contracts that I couldn't answer right away. I decided to get a copy of the contract and check it out for myself before I answered him. After I did my research and gave him an answer to his question, I looked the contract over again and had one of those "light bulb" moments. You know those moments when it seems like you find the answer to a question that no one asked, but it was vitally important that you answer said question? Well, for me it was one of those moments and my answer was "yes."

I'll get to the question a little later.

When I was 18 years old I signed a contract to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This I remember quite easily, but what really caught my attention was what I read in the fine print. This is information that I just "know" because it is floating around in my head from 20 plus years of service. For the life of me, I honestly can't remember reading it before that night. Paraphrasing, what I read was:

1. I understand that many laws, regulations and military customs will govern my conduct and require me to do things under this agreement that a civilian does not have to. Furthermore, I understand that I cannot change the laws that govern me, but Congress may change these laws and I will be subject to those laws in addition to any changes they make to my enlistment agreement.

2. My enlistment agreement is more than an employment agreement. It is a change in status from civilian to military member of the Armed Forces.

3. I will be required to obey all lawful orders and perform all assigned duties.

4. I am subject to separation during or at the end of my enlistment. If my behavior fails to meet acceptable military standards, I may be discharged and given a certificate for less than honorable service, which may hurt my future job opportunities and my claim for veteran's benefits.

5. I am subject to the military justice system, which means that I may be tried by military courts-martial.

6. I may be required to serve in combat or other hazardous situations.

There are other stipulations in our enlistment contracts that are important, but the information above really jumped out at me even though I don't remember reading it when I signed my name on that contract more than 23 years ago. Maybe it's just my old man's memory, or maybe it's just that I was so focused on being on my own and getting my G.I. Bill, that I read it and didn't truly comprehend it. I'm pretty sure my recruiter covered it with me, but to be honest, at 18-years-old, the Air Force was just a job that would give me a guaranteed paycheck for four years and provide money for college so long as I didn't get tossed out for buffoonery. Since my mama didn't raise a buffoon, the rest didn't matter.

The truth is the fine print matters very much. The six stipulations previously mentioned are really important to understand and live by if someone wants to have a successful military career. Regardless if you intend to serve four years, six or 30 years, once you lose sight of those stipulations, you will lose focus and you set yourself up for failure. If you lose focus, your subordinates will too which can have a devastating effect on a unit and ultimately our Air Force.

Many of the people I have met who were separated or discharged due to misconduct or failure to adhere to standards lost sight of the fact that they were no longer civilians. The standards military members must live by are different, and many times, more stringent than what a civilian must adhere to. Military service is not just a job, but a way of life.

Take some time read your enlistment contract located in the Automated Records Management System. Think about it the next time you believe your military branch is being unreasonable, when you are not allowed to indulge in certain liberties, or when you don't believe you should have to deploy because you don't agree with the legality of whatever conflict in which we are engaged.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying you can't have an opinion that differs from our elected leaders. I am not saying you gave up all rights as a person or as a citizen giving our government the right to abuse or treat you unfairly. What I am saying is that we live by a different set of rules and that we should always keep that in mind before we do or say anything. If we do something wrong, I'm 99.99 percent sure we will be able to trace why a disciplinary action was taken against us to one of those six stipulations.

Now, regarding that question that no one asked but I had to answer after I re-read the enlistment contract, and it's the same question I will leave you with:

Are you willing to live by the Air Force core values and the stipulations of your enlistment contract to defend your country and our way of life against all enemies, foreign and domestic, at any given time?

If the answer isn't "yes," you should finish your service honorably and find a new line of employment, because you will lose focus and set yourself up for failure. I do not want you or anyone else to fail, especially with so much at stake.