Reserve in Retrospect: A Citizen Airman's First Year

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kimberly Erickson
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
Hours of buffing black combat boots in basic military training taught me that through dedication, focus and purpose, even the most stubborn scuff marks can be brought back to a brilliant, glossy shine.

That was five years ago, and while the boots are long gone, what remains is far more important: an understanding and appreciation for the sense of dedication, focus and purpose needed to serve as a Citizen Airman.

As I mark my first year in the Air Force Reserve, after separating from active duty, I think back to my original plan to follow in the footsteps of my parents and retire from active military service. Had I been told in basic training I would one day be a Citizen Airman, not a "lifer," I would have laughed. However, life has a funny way of pushing us to explore our possibilities, and I am grateful for it.

In basic training I knew little about what it meant to serve our nation as a Reservist or Air National Guardsman beyond "one weekend a month, two weeks a year." From there, I formulated the opinion that in comparison to active duty, 36 days a year didn't seem like much of a commitment. Few things in life are more humbling than learning you were not only wrong, but had also misjudged something prematurely.

Perhaps the most important realization I have made is this: being a Citizen Airman is not just a part-time job, it's a lifestyle.

Once a month, after the traditional five-day civilian workweek draws to a close, I join more than 75,000 other Guardsmen and Reservists in preparing for and commuting to our unit training assemblies for drill weekend. For me, the commute is a short one; some Citizen Airmen travel far greater distances, leaving behind jobs and families to serve. Instead of heading home on a Friday evening to relax with friends and family, they exchange brief "hello, goodbyes" as they mentally prepare themselves for the drill weekend.

Unlike being on active duty, where I found myself fully immersed in the military lifestyle, being a Citizen Airman requires you to shift from a civilian to military mindset within a short amount of time. This is not limited to drill weekends, but rather any time a Citizen Airman is needed to perform military duty.

Being a Citizen Airman means more than just accomplishing one month's worth of work in one weekend. A typical UTA might include a fitness test, medical appointments and a tasking to complete ancillary training, in addition to primary job responsibilities. Regardless of civilian job requirements and family needs back home, Citizen Airmen must maintain readiness, enabling them to deploy within 36 hours of notification if called upon to do so. We are the world's only reserve component capable of this.

I take pride in knowing I work with dynamic people who have made the commitment to serve their country with the same sense of dedication, focus and purpose as was taught in basic training. Without those three elements, finding and maintaining balance between family, military responsibility and civilian employment, known as the "Reserve Triad," would be impossible.

As I lace up my combat boots, I reflect on how much my view of what it means to be a Citizen Airman has changed over the last year. I no longer see my service as a part-time commitment, but a way of life that goes well beyond "one weekend a month, two weeks a year." 

Today, I proudly join thousands of other Citizen Airmen who hang up their hard hats and business suits to defend our great nation.