So, I'm out in September. Dunzo.
The past few weeks I have been spending at my Air National Guard base here in Madison, making up guard drills. I leave for DC around the first of May, to work for Student Veterans of America (or rather, to get paid for working for SVA...), and my AMMO supervisor agreed to let me make up all the drills between now and September so I wouldn't have to fly home every month to drill. I am flying back for my final drill in September, to finish outprocessing and to say goodbye to my family (AMMO family, that is).
So basically I started outprocessing this week. It really is awfully breezy to get out of the Air National Guard. You just bop around to different offices and they type something into their computer and then they sign your sheet. The problem is that it's such a small base (about 1,000) that after 7 years, everyone is familiar, and even if you don't recognize them, they recognize you. So this is how it goes:
Me: "I need to turn in my ______". I hand them my sheet.
Them: "WHAT! You're leaving??? Why! How long do you have in?"
Me: "7 years."
Them: "But you're so close, you can't quit now! You quitter."
Close? Close to what? Retirement? HA!
And then they say: "Well, if DC doesn't work out, you can always come back. We'll take you back."
Awww. Thanks guys. There's always that, I guess.
So I made my final journey onto the flight line yesterday. I am not going to lie, I felt pretty weird. It's a job I've spent the most time in my 7 years doing--ducking under the jets trying not to smack my head, goofing around with the munitions loaders, driving around trying not to get in any of the jets' way with all kinds of live stuff pointed at the back of my head.
The tarmac has an unusual feel to it. It's always stifling, it always feels like you're cooking a little bit. The heat rises in waves off of it and there's nothing but cement as far as the eye can see. The jets are always parked perfectly aligned, poignant symbols of America's military prowess. Their "remove before flight" flags flap in the wind, their cockpits open, waiting for their pilots. Sometimes the flightline hums with activity, the hustle and bustle of prepping a jet for flight, and sometimes it's you and five guys for miles and miles, the machines frozen in time like giant statues.
I want to say goodbye, I want to formalize the moment, I want to take a picture leaning against the F-16 and frame it under the caption "last trip out to the flight line". I know there will be no equivalent to this experience in the civilian world, ever. But instead I just sigh, lean back in my seat, look over at my driver, and tell him I'm going to miss this place.
Because for as much hell as it's been, really, I am.