By SrA Kimberly Gayle; 28 OSS, Weather Journeyman

                   My boots seemed heavy as of late. Add this punishing Texas heat, and the weight of my sage green combat boots seems the perfect combination for grumbling about this TDY. Is this what I was looking forward to?

                  We just arrived in San Antonio and my only thought is, “where are those feared flat rimmed campaign hats?” My mind begins to fog with memories of fall in San Antonio as I entered Lackland Air Force Base, it’s sign boldly stating: “The Gateway to the Air Force”.

The air is cool and light. I take a breath, and remember back when the tall man with the stripes on his arm and oddly shaped hat had yelled at us; “Hurry up” and “Pick it up”!

The memory is so clear, yet loud and rushed. I release the breath to the reality of someone shouting at me to quickly pick up my luggage and hurry outside. Some things never change.

I’m back in San Antonio, Texas. Not for Basic Military Training, but for the Air Force Sargent’s Association, Professional Airman Conference for 2018. My first thought landing back in Texas is the exact same I had at that main gate: “What am I doing here?” 

At Basic, my training instructor told me why I was here. This time, I have to figure that out for myself. At first, it appeared everyone in attendance had more stripes than I have years in the Air Force. Everyone was speaking in code; phrases I didn’t understand and organizations I had never heard of.

So here I am, taking part in a conference as one of the lowest ranking individuals in the room. I feel totally out of place. The only thing that felt slightly familiar is the third cup of coffee I hold so carefully in my hand. 

Gayle with SAF.jpgMy boots are again beginning to feel heavy when the room was asked to welcome the first speaker. The speaker is introduced, then fan-fare music bellows. The Honorable Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, steps on stage. She is adorned in orange. ‘A bold, yet odd, color for a speaking engagement’, I think. She speaks. Dr. Wilson is at first humble, beginning her speech with gratitude. She thanks all of the correct people considered distinguished, acknowledges leadership, then describes the diligence of Airman. 

She continues speaking; I continue listening. Her words were eloquent, captivating, and solid, matching her presence on stage. She speaks with a simple tenacity and not in code. I begin to understand. She had “faith in my future,” and now I was truly listening. 

As I write this, I could try and give her topics of discussion a good summary, but my words would not do them justice. Her knowledge of heritage, confidence in capability and faith in the future had me completely captured. My leadership sent me to this conference. They have confidence in me; in my abilities. I was there to fully comprehend, even at a lower rank, that I am held to a high caliber, regardless of my job. I learned that self-deprecation, selfish thoughts, and lazy aspirations had to go if I wanted to perform at the level of strength of those around me. 

Just as flint hit steel, Dr. Wilson concluded her discussion. She ended her conversation just as she began; with gratitude. The room erupts in applause and I am left still hanging to her words. This is just what I needed. Chief calls moments like this a “light switch,” or an epiphany. I call it fire. 

I finally felt fire. The heat that makes people do the extraordinary and to never stay comfortable. The spark which drives innovation. The warmth that protects trust. A flame of power that can both inspire and deter. I had needed more fire. 

The color orange is in fire; bold yet odd. Like the color of Dr. Wilson’s dress. I stood, realizing the coffee in my hand had grown cold, but that’s not what I felt inside. 

We walked into the Texas summer, the heat now welcoming after the consistent flow of freezing air that was inside the hotel. I turned Dr. Wilson’s words over and over again in my thoughts, trying to analyze every detail and memorizing every line. 

I stopped in revelation and looked down. My boots were no longer heavy. 

Gayle with Parish.jpg