A call to serve – mission verses job

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Keith Hepler Jr.
  • 341st Maintenance Group Deputy Commander
When I joined the Air Force as an airman basic in May of 1982, it never occurred to me that I would still be serving on active duty nearly 33 years later!  I separated from the Air Force at the end of my four year enlistment in May of 1986 and by December of that year my income had nearly tripled with the promise of upward mobility. It seemed to me, at that time, the primary measure of success revolved around position and income.  I was going to school, had a fantastic benefit plan and had control over my own destiny, but something was missing.  I soon discovered that despite all the perceived goodness, what I had at that time was just a job.  There was no sense of mission, or calling, and it left a gaping, hollow void. 

That moment of reflection reminded me that a sense of mission is what enables us to press through extraordinarily difficult and challenging circumstances when others quit.  It is what makes discomfort and fatigue energizing! It is what made being stranded at a launch facility during a surprise blizzard for two days, and sleeping on the floor of a launcher support building with a few rations and frozen water cans, fun!  
After realizing how much I longed for that sense of mission, I went to the recruiter's office and although there were no positions available to bring me back on active duty, the Air Force Reserve had an opening and I joined.  Two years later I was back on active duty with a 60 percent pay cut and loving every minute of it! I have served in airlift, fighter, bomber, and intercontinental ballistic missile wings and have been blessed with a sense of mission and camaraderie in each and every one of them.  
No matter what the role or mission is, answering the call to serve sets us apart from those who merely do a job. It was displayed when a personnelist eagerly researched information outside her area of expertise to provide a solid answer to the customer, because she felt it was her duty and her unit's mission.  It's doing the right thing, even when nobody knows. It's endeavoring to seek unit success rather than personal credit. It's what makes us feel personal ownership of our unit's performance. It's what makes standing guard for hours on bone chilling concrete, or pulling an intense alert with little to no sleep, or 16 hour days in the blistering cold, or scorching dry heat, rewarding! 

The life lesson for me that day was that a "job" is something you do for eight hours and leave behind at the end of the day, but answering the call to support and execute a mission is something we live!