Do you have an exit strategy?

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- "Raise your hand if you are getting out of the Air Force." I ask this question every time I address a group of personnel reporting in to the Operations Group. The reaction is typically the same - looks of horror or the "I can't believe he just asked me that" look. Why do I get this reaction? More importantly, why do I ask the question? Let me explain. 

I get this reaction because people are often afraid to show their cards. This is probably understandable based on past experiences where they may have seen a co-worker treated differently after putting in his or her separation papers. I look at this differently. After I ask this question and no one raises their hand, I will raise my hand. 

Yes, I plan on getting out of the Air Force. We all plan on getting out of the Air Force at some point. It could be at the end of your enlistment or a training commitment. It could be at the 15-year point or even retirement at 20 years. Like many others, I had no plans on making the Air Force a career. I joined for a couple of reasons, to include wanting to serve and wanting to fly. Before I knew it, I was past 20 years of service and still enjoying being part of the Air Force family and believing in what we do. 

Okay, so we are all getting out of the military at some point. It really doesn't matter when. As far as I am concerned, everyone who serves is a true patriot and has given back to this country more than 99 percent of their peer group. Current statistics show that in the United States, only one percent of each generation has served in the military. In the population as a whole, only eight percent have ever served. That figure includes all our World War II, Korea War and Vietnam War veterans from the days when we had conscription. 

I also use my "attention getting" question to discuss each person's exit strategy. It's very simple - your exit strategy should be based on leaving on your own terms. You don't want to hit a decisive point in your Air Force career but not be part of the decision process, for example, not being able to re-enlist. Ensure that you complete professional military education commensurate with your rank. 

If you are an officer, get that master's degree completed. Don't do it for the Air Force, do it for you. After all, that master's degree will help you in the civilian world as so does PME, both enlisted and officer. 

All of us know people in the Air Force who joined the service for a variety of reasons without ever intending to stay in past their initial enlistment or commitment, yet end up retiring as chiefs or flag officers. Although they had no intention of staying in, they did everything the Air Force asked of them and continued to stay competitive. And when they came to the point of making that re-enlistment decision or taking another assignment, the ball was in their court. 

Do you have an exit strategy? If you don't, start thinking about your future, both in and out of the Air Force. Set yourself up for success by making choices that will enable you to control your career.