By Senior Airman Marissa Tucker, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 18, 2012
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Do you remember your first deployment? Maybe you anticipated it, wondering what you would see or do when you arrived, or even if you would survive. Then your time to return home drew nearer, and all you could think about was getting home, though you knew a long flight was ahead of you.
For many members of Airman Leadership School class 12-D, that feeling was familiar - myself included. Hopping on rotators, eating boxed meals and mystery airline food, being extremely hot or cold, sleeping in random places and positions, and being stuck in the dreaded middle seat for six hours are all common experiences when redeploying.
Although there is no avoiding the process, who says you can't do something to make it better?
During what my ALS class thought was a random conversation to help us learn a concept, the instructor mentioned an idea about how it would be cool if someone provided food and drinks to service members transitioning through Incirlik. While everyone agreed someone should do that, we just didn't know who.
Then the light bulb came on, and we knew the "someone" would be us for two reasons. First, we were in ALS, and most of us were all pumped up about being the change we wanted to see in the Air Force. Second, we identified with that feeling of returning from a deployment. We know what it's like to be tired, hot, dirty and flat out miserable trying to get home. Maybe we didn't have anyone welcoming us back and giving us things when we hit our halfway point, but so what?
So, Operation First Stop was born. We decided to pick a transitioning flight, greet the service members, and barbeque hot dogs and burgers for them. We had it all planned out.
Then we got a wrench thrown in our plans, and we scaled back. We got discouraged because we knew exactly what we wanted to do, but couldn't. Instead, we decided doing what we could was better than not doing anything.
That was big lesson number one. Most of the time, you might not get to do exactly what you want when you have a new idea. You have to decide if stubbornly sticking to your original idea is worth not doing it at all.
The day came and we had fruit drinks, chips and Turkish breads. We also had homemade cookies, thanks to one of our classmates and his friends, as well as the instructor's wife. Although you could definitely see the travel fatigue in the returning service members' faces, many thanked us before disbursing into their respective chill-out areas.
I never heard anyone ask why we were there. I like to think they already knew.
We felt good when it was over. We actually followed through on an idea from class, though we already graduated at that point. The second big lesson we learned was it doesn't take a lot of planning to do something big. Now that we saw how easy it was, we plan to do it monthly. As much as we would like to bring goodies to transitioning service members more frequently, it's just not feasible due to monetary and time constraints, but that doesn't mean we just stop.
The third, and biggest, lesson we learned through Operation First Stop is in this Air Force, it is completely useless to sit around and complain about something without ideas and the follow-through to try to make a change. Sometimes, we all complain with no intent to change, though. It's easier than doing something about it.
We don't have perfect processes. It's impossible; but even if you could make a small dent in improving a process, would you? I think what separates complainers from doers is complainers do just that and it stops there. Doers complain too, but the complaining is followed by action. They might even keep complaining, but it's done constructively and to people who can do something about it.
It's the difference between talking about it and being about it.
Those are fighting words where I come from meant to get one person to beat up the other after an argument. When I think about it, though, those words are really just a call to action. You have to ask yourself what you are about.
For some people, it's children, running, helping others, fitness or autism. Anything you think is worth putting effort into, that's what you are about. ALS Class 12-D was about helping returning service members feel welcomed home by not only their families, but also by their brothers and sisters in arms.
So, what will you be about?