Take advantage of every opportunity

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Darrell McKinney
  • 62nd Mission Support Group
Regardless of whether you have decided to make the Air Force a career or separate after your first enlistment, you should take advantage of every opportunity the Air Force offers to grow and improve yourself.

The Air Force provides all sorts of training that will help you effectively accomplish your job and prepare you for greater responsibilities. Professional Military Education courses such as Airman Leadership School, NCO Academy and the Senior NCOA all give you tools that you can use while active duty or in the civilian sector. There are very few jobs in the civilian sector that help cultivate your leadership skills from the first day you begin until you separate or retire.

The Air Force provides awesome benefits for Airmen seeking off-duty education. If you're not working toward your college degree, you're missing out. The Air Force currently pays 100 percent of your college tuition. The only cost to you is for books and gas to get there.

I recently read a report about college students and the huge debt they acquire while attending school. According to the report, the average debt for a student upon graduation is $19,000. Many undergraduates though, have debt exceeding $40,000.

It went on to say two-thirds of college graduates move back home with their parents after graduation. You have an opportunity to leave the Air Force with a college degree in your hand and a vast amount of practical experience, all while staying debt free if you make the right decisions.

Lastly, I have one example of taking advantage of opportunities. During my first enlistment, I had to make a decision on whether to enroll into the Veterans Education Assistance Program or decline. My supervisor encouraged me to simply contribute the minimum amount, which was then $25, and a few minutes of my time to complete the application.

"You never know what will happen in the future, you may need it later," he said. Although at the time I did not think the program would be beneficial to me, I followed his advice and enrolled.

Approximately 12 years later, the Air Force offered a new and improved education program called the Montgomery GI Bill, which provided thousands of dollars more than the program that I had originally enrolled into. The Air Force allowed anyone enrolled in VEAP to transfer to the new Montgomery GI Bill. However, Airmen who had not originally signed up for VEAP were not allowed to enroll into the new program.

My decision to enroll into VEAP during my first enlistment gave me access to approximately $10,000 more for education than what I would have received had I not chosen to pay $25.

There are many other opportunities to enhance your professional growth. Volunteer to take those additional duties such safety manager, physical training leader or operational risk manager. They all provide opportunities to hone your leadership and managerial skills. Remember, you never know what will happen in the future -- you may need it later.