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Stepping stones to success: Starting out right

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: this is the first in a series of articles that will provide young Airmen and supervisors with advice to help make their careers in the military a success.)

All enlisted Air Force careers originate at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, at Basic Military Training. However, as soon as this initial training is done, service members diverge into many varied career paths. From the first day of basic training to the day of separation or retirement, every Airman has a singular career experience.

While every Airman's experience is subjective and filled with separate personal goals, all of these goals usually relate to the desire for a successful career. To ensure that every Airman is offered the chance at a successful career, Air Force leaders encourage Airmen to take advantage of educational, retraining and special-duty opportunities. For many, that begins as early as their first days in the First Term Airman's Center.

What commonly prevents Airmen from making their careers as successful as possible is procrastination and complacency, said Master Sgt. Shannon Wass, the base's career assistance advisor.

"The majority of people who come to see me for retraining are second-term Airmen," said Wass. "The problem with that is most first-term Airmen don't understand how the Career Airman Reenlistment Reservation System window works. It is the only time in their career that they can put in for a retraining or base of preference where manning ... has nothing to do with it. If they don't do it during their CAREERS window, then they lose that opportunity."

The CAREERS window is a nine-month time frame in which first-term Airmen may apply to retrain to any job or for a base of preference of their choice, said Wass. The window for four-year enlistees is from 35-43 months and the window for six-year enlistees is from 59-67 months. Airmen seeking either a new job or a permanent change of station have the best opportunity to obtain these during these windows.

Applying for retraining as a second-term Airmen involves a lot of variables, said Wass. The only way Airmen retrain beyond their CAREERS window is if they are willing to cross train to a job that is more critically undermanned than their current job.

Taking advantage of retraining opportunities and BOP applications are ways for service members to steer their careers toward success, but the Air Force provides more opportunities to people beyond their CAREERS window, the base career assistance advisor said.

The Air Force needs people to take on special duties and volunteer for short tours, said Wass. It benefits both the Air Force and the member, and one of the best ways to get a BOP is to volunteer for a short tour.

Working at the right job and being stationed at the right base has a lot to do with career success, but there are other factors involved such as finding a mentor and taking advantage of educational opportunities, said Wass.

"Most successful people tend to find a mentor early on in their career," said Wass. Mentors can encourage Airmen to take advantage of educational opportunities or to get proactive on the base by joining professional organizations, she added.

Being proactive is the most important part of having a successful career, said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Inskeep, 19th Maintenance Group superintendent. Successful people always have to be willing to try something new.

"It's important for people to get outside their comfort zone," said the chief. "Try something different. Whether it is a retrain or a special duty, it is good to do something else that will broaden your breadth of experience and give you a little better picture of what the Air Force is all about."

In addition to staying inside their comfort zone, not taking advantage of educational opportunities is a common pitfall that prevents Airmen from having more successful careers, the chief said.

"The biggest pitfall I've seen is people not getting their education quickly enough," he said. "You want your ... education done as soon as possible. So that when you're ready to promote then you don't have to focus on that. You can focus on being a part of private organizations or leadership."

Becoming involved in agencies and professional organizations helps Airmen establish rapport with their peers as well as making them visible to their leaders, said Wass.
"Visibility is important," said the chief. "Being involved in professional organizations is important. It can be anything, even as small as a squadron booster club ... when people see you involved that can help them advocate for you for stratifications or below the zone, to name a few things."

Staying visible and establishing contacts through professional organizations is paramount to having the most successful career possible, said Wass. However, Airmen should stay educated on the benefits and courses of action available for them during their career.

"That's why we do the mandatory informed decision briefing," the career assistance advisor said. "I want them to know about their entire benefits package and what's available to them in the service."

Staying educated on Air Force benefits is important, but Inskeep said it is up to the individual to make the most of their opportunities in order to have the most fulfilling career possible.

"Get educated, get out of your comfort zone and don't let anyone stand in your way and do everything that you can to achieve," the chief said.