Ed Note: the letter below was penned by MSgt. Jeremy Parker, regarded as one of the best C-17 loadmasters in McChord’s 446th Airlift Wing before his recent retirement. It is re-posted here with his permission, and with only minor editorial corrections for grammar and format.
I’m posting this here not necessarily to endorse (or repudiate) its particulars, but because the perspective it offers advances the unfolding conversation about what it means to serve in the 2015 Air Force. Jeremy touches on just how radically perspectives about air service have changed in the last two decades, and how that has orphaned many a capable airman unable to adjust quickly enough to shifting expectations. The question we might all consider is whether those changes are making us more or less effective at the task of national defense. We clearly let go of a teammate who loved his team and knew his job. How many such airmen can we afford to lose?
Please enjoy, engage, and comment. -Q.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Today marks the end of the worst two years of my air force career. I always said I’d serve until they kick me out or I retire. Well, they threated one and forced the other. 20 years ago I thought I joined a “smart” force. I was never an athletic star in high school. I didn’t letter in basketball or any other sport. In fact I never made it off the JV basketball team. Instead I lettered in Knowledge Bowl; took every college prep course available and graduated as valedictorian of my class. I was a geek. A geek that wanted to serve his country. I wanted to join a force that would use my brain rather then my muscle. The Air Force, at the time, was a perfect fit. It was a smart force that relied on technical knowledge and skill to help defend this country. 15 years into my career I was faced with a problem, the Air Force now wanted more muscle then brain.
The day I was forced off a flying mission by the Operations Group Commander due to a 45 sec slow run time on the PT test and not a Q-3, or a failed MQF test, or a lack of knowledge of my primary AFSC, I realized the Air Force I knew and loved was gone. A force suffering from a massive identity crisis took its place. That force, over the last 2 years, stacked my file with enough PT failure letters to rank me among the same criminals that strike officers, chronically show up late for duty, or cannot wash them selves. An 18-year decorated veteran who honorably served in two wars under two AFSCs, to include as an In-flight Medical Technician and an Evaluator/Instructor Airdrop Loadmaster, was being threatened with general discharge with no retirement, all for a slow run time on a PT test.
With the new Secretary of the Air Force preaching ethics, my impeding threat of discharge sadly fell far short of any type of ethics. As a result, my confidence was shot, my leadership undermined, and the crushing feeling of being marked a dirt bag criminal obviously affected my attitude for the service I chose. In all my service I have never felt so low, ashamed, and sick as I have in the last 2 years.
Today also marks the end of my USAFR career and 18 wonderful years of service. I am very grateful to the Air Force for the training, experience, travel, and the people I met. Who would have thought a boy from the Makah Reservation would set foot on every continent on this planet!? This experience truly has been the best of my life so far. There was no better feeling than stepping off the crew bus towards that big gray beast on the flight line and knowing I was going to crew it, and fly it to the greatest, or worst, places on earth!
I am grateful to the officers and sergeants who taught and shared their knowledge with me. That is the one thing that I hope continues when I am gone. The sharing of skill and knowledge from one airman to another ensuring the security of this nation and the effectiveness of the Reserves. There are volumes of knowledge that you can not find in a T.O., AFI, or Altus Instruction. That knowledge is passed from one Loadmaster to another based on years of experience spanning many missions and military conflicts. This information is our job. This information is what we are paid to do when the flag goes up and it is time to fly into combat. This is the information that gets supplies to the troops who are in the fight, fast, efficiently and constantly. Sadly, the USAFR is forcing this knowledge out of service. Aligning with the ways of the active duty is going to cause a massive knowledge debt in the reserves. The reserves, in the past, have been comfortable with the consistent fact that their force is more mature, seasoned, and knowledgeable. Adopting the active duty’s turnover rate will nullify this knowledge and experience, leaving the Reserves less effective than ever before. This fact saddens me the most and truly makes my early departure from the service, in my mind, regrettable.
My apologies to those who thought ill of me for not having a retirement ceremony. Yes it seems odd, for those who know me, to not have a military ceremony on my last day in the USAFR, but please note: this separation happened 10 years before its time. Because of that fact, I will never be ready to say goodbye. Know I hold no malice towards my brothers and sisters in arms, and have nothing but the utmost respect to all members I served with. We flew into combat together, side by side. I will never forget that. Never. We did what we were trained to do and we did it well. I will always remember that fact. Always. Fly safe 97th AS, & 446 AES.
My Highest Regards,
Jeremy Parker, MSgt., USAF (Ret.)
97th Airlift Squadron