Happiness Through Progression and Career Stagnation

Originally posted October 15, 2014.
The instructions for the assignment were “Write a narrative in which you tell about an experience that affected you in a positive way. Write your narrative for a general audience that would include your classmates…”

According to most senior enlisted personnel in the Army, I would be considered, among other things, a “dirt bag”. Eighteen and a half years’ time in service and I’m a Staff Sergeant. A glance up and down from a random First Sergeant usually leads to a raised eyebrow and the inevitable question as to how many times I have been demoted. It is beyond their belief that the answer is always “none”, for in most career fields, and for most enlisted service members, upward mobility is a relatively easy path towards greater responsibility and prominence.

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Replacing a primary servo, Mosul, Iraq 2010

Officially, my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is “15T – UH-60 Blackhawk Repairer” – otherwise known as a “crewchief”. Our jobs vary within this MOS, but I have held the position of line crewchief, Flight Instructor (FI), Standardization Instructor (SI), squad leader, Maintenance Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), Platoon Sergeant (PSG), and Technical Inspector (TI).  The most influential and satisfying position I have held, though, would be SI – the individual responsible for the training and evaluation of all crewchiefs, flight medics, and other instructors assigned to my unit.

In casual inquiries over almost 19 years I have come to estimate the cost of operating a UH-60 Blackhawk at approximately $2,280 per flight hour. I have flown 3,904.9 total hours, of which 1230.0 hours were in combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The total cost invested in my experiences operating in high stress and high reliability situations during all types of weather and any time of the day is about $8,903,172.00. Since December of 2001, I have trained or have been part of the training of 57 crewchiefs, 20 flight medics, and 6 instructors. Not only have I been trained and proficient in just about any mission set performed by the Blackhawk, but I have passed that training along to others as well as held them not only to the evaluation standards dictated by the Army, but to my standards.

This can get lost when an outsider looks at the time in service, though, and I am aware of this fact. While I would be the one to volunteer to take that one student everyone else had deemed “untrainable,” my peers were pursuing civilian education. Instead of worrying about promotion boards, I spent time refining scenario-based training which placed emphasis on relevant exercises in critical thinking and problem solving. This stagnated my “professional development” severely and I watched as not only my peers advance in rank, but eventually, the students whom I taught. I was happy, though, because as long as the line of students kept coming, I could focus on what I truly felt was the job I was best suited to do.

Newsworthy accidents have shared in the total numbers in my personal logbook – 10 of my peers have died in the line of duty. With the negative, however, there is always a positive experience, though they have to be sought out a bit more: an article in which a former student is being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2010 for being part of the crews rescuing eight German soldiers from a firefight in Afghanistan. SSG Pantoja, another former student is interviewed after performing civil assistance in the aftermath of the 2013 floods in Colorado: “It’s the training from our leaders, our NCOs, that helped us”, while yet another sends a simple text message announcing he achieved the highest overall average at the Aircrewmember Standardization Instructor Course at Ft. Rucker, Alabama: “Thanks, Mike… It’s all because of you.”

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Hoist training in Mosul, Iraq, 2010.

I don’t fly anymore – bulging disks in my lumbar area as well as degenerative arthritis finally put a stop to those days in November of 2013. I still sneak up on the helicopter to give the opportunity-driven class to soldiers 17 years younger and infinitely more nimble than I, and I continue to insist that the next generation find their hunger for quality over quantity. I suppose my experiences have been more positive than negative, because regardless of the opinions of those who know not of my story, to my brothers and sisters I will always have the time to hear them out and build them up to their best potential.

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