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Col. Walter J. Lindsley
Col. Walter J. Lindsley
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My educational journey: Education is freedom

Posted 6/29/2012   Updated 6/29/2012 Email story   Print story


by Col. Walter Lindsley
Chief of Staff, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command

6/29/2012 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- My educational journey certainly had its challenges, but the rewards of learning were inspirational, sensational and powerful. We are living in a nation where education enables us to build our future to become leaders in communities, in business or in government. The United States Air Force gave me the opportunity through education to strive to be the best I can be. I learned "Aiming High" starts inside.

A philosopher once wrote, "I was down on my luck, had no shoes, no money, no job. I was feeling pretty low until I came upon a man with no feet at all. It was then that I understood I really had no problem at all."

The author of that bit of wisdom is simply trying to remind us that we have the freedom to make choices, in particular when faced with adversity. If we choose to dedicate ourselves then we rise in character and wisdom from the experience. If we choose to complain and give up ... well, then we fail to achieve our part in this world.

My educational journey began in 1982. In my home town, the employer was the steel mill. Most of the kids I grew up with just knew they were going to work there and live forever in my home town. Oddly enough, that steel mill closed its doors and I, like many of my classmates, saw my town decline in opportunity. On top of that, I was trying to figure out how to get to school and more importantly how to pay for it. With little hope of employment locally, I turned to my recruiter and joined the Air Force. Best decision I've ever made!

One of the things that drew me to the Air Force was its technical applications. I loved electronics, loved airplanes and loved war movies. My recruiter told me that every bit of training I was going to attend would count in some fashion toward my associate degree through the Community College of the Air Force. So there I was gaining a career, experience and college credits from the day I entered training. For a kid from the mid-west, with no real work experience and only a high school education, that promise sounded pretty darn good.

My home town was in decline and my family was struggling to get by, but that philosopher was right -- there was no problem, so I embarked on my future through the journey of education. America is an amazing country and the United States Air Force a remarkable institution. Where else can a farm boy from Illinois be taught how to repair multi-million dollar aircraft and be given the opportunity to pursue an education? In my Air Force, you can become whatever you desire as long as you are willing to work hard to get there.

After Technical School I arrived at my first duty location and immediately started my Career Field Development Course. It took me one month per volume but I got them knocked out and made the honor roll. Guess what else? That's right, I also got college credits. So I approached my Shop Chief, First Sergeant and Career Advisor and let them know that I'd really like to attend college courses and to get commissioned. Know what happened? I found that they wanted me to attend courses almost as much as I wanted to. They pushed me, worked my schedule, kept up with my progress and basically cheered me through the process. It was this remarkable group of NCOs like Stafff Sgt. Keller, Staff Sgt. Dutton, and Senior Master Sgt. Griffin who pushed me to go to school.

Oh, I paid my dues, trust me. I'd go to work at 0645 every morning and work until 1630 each day and often on the weekends. I was an aircraft avionics technician working on C-130s, so there was no shortage of work. After work I'd grab a bite to eat at the dining facility and by 1800 I was in class until 2200 each night and sometimes on the weekend also. I'd then do homework until midnight only to get up at 0600 to start the cycle all over again for six long years.

It took me six years to get my academic degree due to multiple deployments, marriage, kids ... just plain old life circumstances. But I'll tell you what, my NCO and officer leadership never let me stray from the goal for very long. Leaders like Maj. Larry Lowe and Senior Master Sgt. Jerry Schwatzel made sure that I kept on track and stayed committed.

We all recognized the same thing. Education is freedom. It's the freedom to choose, freedom to decide, freedom to advance, freedom to accept other challenges ... education is freedom!

I credit the Air Force for having the community college program that got me started on my educational journey. Without that program, I likely would have been overwhelmed and not gotten started. I then credit my NCO leadership for recognizing and sacrificing so that I could achieve my educational goal. They knew that I wanted to get a commission and, collectively from 1982-1989, my NCO and officer leadership assisted me in staying on track and providing the opportunity to pursue my education.

The rest, as they say, is history. I achieved my degree, applied and was accepted for a commission and went on to complete two master's degrees in time. But my journey started in 1982, was born out of desperation, was brought to completion by persistence and has resulted in the freedom to accept leadership challenges that would have never been afforded to an uneducated farm boy from Illinois with no skill, no experience and no idea how to find them.

I'm grateful for this great nation, where you can go as far as you are willing to work hard. I'm thankful for the Air Force who values the development of its people and created programs to help its people achieve the freedom born of education. Finally, I'm indebted to the leaders in my career who saw to it that I had the opportunity and made my dream important to them. They paid it forward, and I've spent my career trying to not let them down and to carry on that tradition.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my educational journey in a nutshell ... if it gives one reader the boost to re-engage and get an education, then it helped me keep my debt of gratitude to the leaders who inspired and pushed me. Crack those books!

7/9/2012 2:54:36 PM ET
This story serves as an excellent example of what desire persistence and faith in yourself will do. If you want something in life you must be willing to give up something in order to get it. Burning the midnight oil with an end goal in mind paid off.
Vanessa M., Robins AFB GA
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