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Breaking the stereotype - my first year as a Reservist

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bobby Pilch
  • 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
At 34-years-old, most individuals are not thinking of placing their professional civilian career on hold to join the military. However, on May 11, 2010 that is exactly what I did when I enlisted with the United States Air Force Reserve at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. - I have not looked back.

I did not take the frequently traveled path to become a Reservist. I graduated college ten years ago. I have a professional career in the hospitality industry and I had no prior military experience.

My hospitality profession opened the door to what would eventually lead me to the recruiter's office in March 2010 and take the Oath of Enlistment.

I had been working with the 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs office several occasions regarding hospitality related needs, and was tapped to join their Honorary Commanders program in Fall 2008. At the time, I had no clue what this would entail.

As an Honorary Commander, I had the privilege of flying on several training missions aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. Most memorable, a formation training flight involving 13 aircraft flying high above the Charleston sky and later practicing a cargo drop. I would later attend a luncheon with a three-star general and routinely socialized with leadership at various community and base functions.

The experiences were overwhelming at times, and ignited something inside me. I desired something more, I desired to be a part of something bigger than myself, I desired to serve my country.

Finally, it all became clear during a civic leader trip in September 2009 to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. It was there I would see first-hand, how young men and women are transformed into warrior Airmen.

Shortly after the trip, I met the Public Affairs Officer with the 315th Airlift Wing and inquired about opportunities that may be suited for someone with my background and experience. It just so happened there was a potential opportunity opening up within the 315 AW PA office. It would require me to attend basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas.

Before I made any type of commitment, I had to think long and hard about what I would be giving up - separation from my wife and family, all of my personal freedom and taking a leave of absence from my professional career.

After a few days of deep thought, consultation with my wife, and a thorough viewing of the Air Force's basic training website, I decided I was ready to board the plane to San Antonio, Texas. The fact that I was approaching my 35 birthday also helped to expedite the decision process, since you must enlist before turning 35 years old.

With the decision made to join the U.S. Air Force Reserve, I began my journey at Lackland AFB, Texas.

My first thought, what have I done? I am too old for this!

After all, I was surrounded by a majority of 18-25 year-old energetic and determined young men who never knew what it was like to grow up without a video game console or a cell phone. This included my military training instructor, who was at the ripe old age of 26.

Although I attended basic training in May, it was not long before I became known as "Old Man Winter", not because of my physical appearance or performance, but because I was the oldest member of my training flight. MTI's have a unique way of showing their appreciation for the elderly.

With the challenges and adversity basic training has to offer, it did not take me long to find my purpose. I pushed myself beyond what I thought was physically possible at my age and did my best to inspire the younger generation who were now looking up to me for motivation and guidance. If this 35 year-old man can do it, they knew they could.

In a short eight-and-a-half weeks and 20 pounds lighter, I was marching across the parade grounds of Lackland AFB, as many Airmen have done before me, taking my oath to the Constitution which I watched others do as a distinguished visitor during my civic leader flight ten months prior - only now, as an Airman in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

After basic training graduation, I was shipped like an express package to Fort George G. Meade, MD for four months of technical training at the Defense Information School. It was there where I learned basic photography and journalism skills to prepare me as a Public Affairs Specialist, which are my primary duties today.

While at Fort Meade, I was granted a few personal liberties such as freedom to wear civilian clothes, experience a private shower and leave the confines of the post to explore my surroundings. It was the small things taken for granted which meant so much while slowly transitioning back to my former civilian lifestyle.

Upon graduation from DINFOS, I proceeded to serve active duty orders for 90 days as part of my seasoning training with the 315th Public Affairs. Seasoning training provides the opportunity for a newly- minted reservist to polish their skills attained after technical school and experience on-the-job training. This was invaluable to say the least.

Before completing my seasoning tour, I had the privilege of flying to Haiti and Grenada during the New Year holiday, providing public affairs support for a humanitarian mission purposed to deliver 40 tons of medical and school supplies to families and schools in need of this critical aid.

The mission was quite rewarding and it opened my eyes to see the positive impact that we, as servicemembers and citizens of the United States, have on those less fortunate.

I returned home from the mission the evening of January 1, 2011 - a new year, a fresh start, a chance to mentally review what I had accomplished during the past ten months as a new member of the 315 AW.

If you had asked me what I would be doing in my life and career a year ago, I could not have imagined wearing dress blues and the Airman's Battle Uniform while serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Some of my friends, family and professional acquaintances thought I was a little crazy for putting my civilian career on hold and joining the military service; however, I tell them, I was crazy for not doing it sooner!