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Adaptation is key to happiness, success

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
 Trudging up the steep hill, the cold winter air burning my lungs, I fought with my web belt, shifted my helmet and wiped the sweat from my brow. It was January and the snow had just melted at Osan, yet I was losing fluids just by walking to work in my "battle rattle" and chemical warfare defense ensemble.

"What am I doing here?" I thought. I had just come from sunny Florida, the beach a 10 minute walk from my office, and now I was slipping on ice trying re-learn how to walk in large rubber boots.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded and the Giant Voice told me it was time to don my gloves and mask. I did so and took cover in a nearby shelter.

Sitting there, my breaths sounding like a dime-store Darth Vader, I contemplated my situation. Things had definitely changed: another country, another climate, another mission. How was I going to put up with this?

Like a cheesy "Wonder Years" spin-off, a vignette of past experiences began to flit by.
A 10-year-old Benjy was standing there, just outside the chain-link fence of Heights Elementary School, a yet-to-be-filled backpack in his hand. I had gone to private schools up to then, and this was my first foray into the public domain. Nervous and excited, I walked through the gate and into the schoolyard, everyone stopping their kickball and jump rope games to watch.

Flash-forward a few weeks, and I was playing four-square with the best of them, laughing with new friends and excelling in class.

Then there was 12-year-old Ben, staring out his bedroom window at snow-capped Mount Baker. We had just moved from California to Washington, and man oh man, was it different. No more gun shots in the night or watching car chases through the neighborhood. Now it was the sound of tractors in the fields and seeing salmon in the river. It was all so alien to me.

Again, flash-forward a few weeks, and I was riding my bike on mountain trails, working with friends bailing hay and drinking lemonade in the shade of an evergreen.

Lastly I saw 23-year-old Benjamin, riding on a bus headed into Lackland Air Force Base. It was hard to see what the base looked like under the cloud-covered night sky. My heart played a drum solo in my chest as the bus slowed to a stop, the bus driver opening the door in tension-building slow motion. And the next thing I knew, there was a man screaming at us to get off the bus, get off the bus!

This flash-forward was to six weeks later, and I was marching in formation with my flight, eyes left, seeing my family smile at me as we passed. My chest was out, my head held high, and I was a graduate of U.S. Air Force basic training.

These scenes were interrupted finally by the Giant Voice telling me it was OK to take off my mask and walk around again. I peeled off the protective mask, took a deep breath of the cold air and smiled.

Everything here would be fine. All I had to do was listen, learn and tap into all of my training and adapt to this new situation.

Exercises, like the one I was in that day, are just one of the many ways the Air Force constantly trains us to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." And it is our duty to be able to use that training to adapt to whatever scenario we are asked to enter, so that we are successful in that mission.

I'm sure that everyone in the military has gone through things like Benjy, Ben and Benjamin. So when it seems like you're living and working in an alien universe, remember that scary looking schoolyard, throw your backpack over your shoulder and adapt to your surroundings.