I never thought this day would come
By Col. Scott Graham, 117th Operations Group Commander
/ Published June 12, 2016
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- I never thought this day would come ... retirement. Some days I looked forward to it, and others, I felt it was coming too fast. I have to say, though, after "practicing" retirement while on terminal leave, I highly recommend it! Everybody should get to do this; everybody who has served our country deserves it, and you have definitely earned it.
Over the course of my last year in the military, I was asked constantly, "It's going to be a big change, are you ready for it?" and "You can't just do nothing, what are you going to do next?" It definitely made me think, am I ready? Not only that, am I financially ready, am I ready for this big change in lifestyle? Going from the busy 0700 to 1730 schedule four days a week plus drill weekend, to something not so regular, is such a drastic change both physically and mentally. Am I ready for it? Will I be prepared for the change?
Change is inevitable. It is certain and it is constant. A philosopher once wrote, "the only thing that is constant is change" and Benjamin Franklin wrote, "nothing is certain but death and taxes." Someone later on added "...and change." Whoever added that was correct.
I began my military career in SAC; that's Strategic Air Command for all those who entered the military since the mid-1990s. The SAC was solely responsible for nuclear deterrence against the Soviet Union. Aircrews sat alert 24/7, ready to respond in a moment's notice in the event of a nuclear missile attack against the United States. For four decades, the Air Force stood ready for nuclear war. Then one day, it was gone in a flash. Nobody saw it coming, and frankly, nobody was ready for it. SAC disappeared, and along came the Air Mobility Command. Life as we knew it in the tanker, from that day forward, would be changed forever.
I remember when I first came to the 117th as an active duty instructor pilot, to help during the aircraft conversion from the RF-4 to the KC-135R. There was a lot of turmoil caused by this change of unit aircraft. Quite often I heard the phrase, "the Guard is not what it used to be." I watched numerous people retire or leave the military because of this change. Nothing wrong with that at all, it was just a change they didn't like or they didn't want to take part in. It was just time for their life to take a different path.
In 2009, a new chapter at the 117th began with the addition of active duty personnel in Birmingham, as the 99th Air Refueling Squadron stood up. I heard comments such as, "they're here to take our jobs," "the Guard will never be the same," and "it will never work." This addition not only changed the culture of the Guardsman, it changed it for the 99th personnel also. Active duty stationed at a Guard base? Under a Guard commander? No commissary, no BX, no gymnasium? What were the powers that be thinking?
Well, here we are seven years later. What will be the next change? Will it be cultural or procedural? Changes occur daily; operational readiness inspections are gone while unit effectiveness inspections and capstones are the new buzz words. I can list many more cultural and process changes, and I'm sure you could add some too, but the 117th is steady and moving forward because of its people. People come, people go, and people step forward to accept the challenges that come along with change. You see it in our young airmen who come back from tech schools as distinguished graduates. You see it in our First Shirts who hit the ground running in their new assignment. You see it in our deployed members as they adapt to their environment, on the ground and in the air, to work together to ensure mission success.
Change can be difficult, but don't be afraid of change. There are many different types of change, and different approaches to managing change. Find an approach that suits you and your situation; don't resist change. Instead, learn to embrace it. Prepare yourself and be ready for it. In fact, look for change and ways to improve. I once heard, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." I am proud to have been a member of the 117th and look forward to crossing paths with you someday and hearing about all the changes and successes at the 117th. God Bless!