Fifty-six years ago today, at 17 years old and a month and a half after graduating from high school, I boarded a plane (for the first time) with a group of other young fellows, who like me, had enlisted in the Air Force. We had no idea what we were getting into! Some, like me, wanted to go on to college, but for various reasons were unable to do so. Some had already tried college and had to bail out for one reason or another. Still others who didn’t know what else to do with themselves after high school decided to get their military obligation out of the way. At that time, the “draft” was in effect and those who were not in college or on a farm would be called to military duty at age 18. I remember trying to find a job to finance my plan to enter college that fall, but was told everywhere that I should get my military obligation out of the way first. Most of us joined the Air Force because we didn’t want to be drafted and end up in the Army.
We had little or no awareness of what was about to happen to us. We soon discovered that it wasn’t anything like we thought it would be. Upon our arrival in Texas we were transported by bus to Lackland Air Force Base. There we were immediately stripped of our clothes, our shoes, our hair, and our personhood. We became automatons. We were told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. We were told what to say and when and how to say it, how to fold our clothes and how to dress, when to awake and when to go to bed. Our former lifestyles were taken from us and we became what the Air Force expected of us. Looking back, I can see the value in this disciplined life, but at the time I resented and despised it! When those ten weeks of basic training came to an end, we breathed a sigh of relief, but we also knew that we had been changed and would never be what we were before.
|Air Force Academy Chapel|
The Air Force decided what we were qualified to do and assigned us to certain “technical schools” for training. We were given various details (like picking up cigarette butts and cleaning latrines and other such menial tasks) while we waited for our schools to begin. I didn’t want to do what the Air Force wanted me to do and considered me qualified to do. It was a time of great frustration. One evening it came to me, clear as a bell, that I could have some “say” in the matter, that I was meant to do something other than what was being forced on me to do. This experience was so “real” and so “powerful” that the very next day I began the process to change my situation. Fortunately, with the help of others, things changed (a long story). I became a “Chaplain Assistant,” a work that I enjoyed immensely during my four year enlistment. Later, after college and seminary, I became an Air Force Chaplain in the Reserve and served for thirty years in that ministry. So you see, today really is an important anniversary for me. I went where I did not want to go, I did what I did not want do, until, like the Prodigal of old, I came to my senses and chose to go home— chose to pay attention to the inner Voice.