Like many on their first military posting, Airman 1st Class Patrick Mulligan was still wondering if he’d made the right decision joining the Air Force last year.
So, as he started his work at Joint Base Langley-Eustis as 633rd Force Support Squadron retirements and separation technician, he thought it’d be interesting to ask airmen leaving the service why they had signed up.
“I wanted to try to understand what made people spend 20-plus years of their lives in the military. I wanted to understand what drove them,” he said.
His unit at Langley keeps a fast pace — handling everything from retirements to directly supporting rapid deployments. Mulligan figured older Air Force hands might have some tips about handling the challenges of life in a post with lots of demands and daily change.
So he started asking about that, too.
One piece of advice: “Don’t worry too much about whether you’re going to do 20 years, you need to take things day by day, focus on what’s happening on that day.”
Doing the best you can will pay off, was another common message.
“I think one of big things they said is ‘don’t let the Air Force say no’ about your career,” he said.
“They meant: It’s work to earn; if you work, you can reach your goals in the Air Force.”
The airmen talked about being supportive to fellow service members, advice he took to heart when helping an airmen leave the service ahead of schedule after a traumatic event.
He kept calling to the Air Force Personnel Center to request updates on the case, and made a point of making separation go as smoothly as possible. The departing airman noticed, too, thanking Mulligan for making the experience one of the better ones of a short Air Force term.
“To know that I made someone who could’ve been at their lowest feel safe is enough for me to know that I’ve found my purpose,” Mulligan said.
And part of his purpose, too, comes from simply asking for retirees’ advice.
“I don’t think most of them come in expecting to be asked if they have any advice, especially when they’re minutes away from driving out of the gates for the last time in uniform,” Mulligan said. “I do it so they know that, even at the end of their career, they helped one more Airman.”
The advice that struck home most came the second time he asked.
“It was from a Chief Master Sergeant,” the highest rank in the Air Force, he said.
“She said, remember where you came from; even if you reach the highest rank, be true to yourself.”
Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, email@example.com