An Airman Finds Meaning in Getting Left Behind


On New Year’s Eve two years ago, I topped my annual list of goals with one word in screaming caps: “DEPLOY!”

Since the day I enlisted, my ultimate goal with the Air National Guard was to deploy, even if it meant to a Middle Eastern sandbox not high on anyone’s tourist list. Sure, I had gained experience from every facet of my military journey, from basic training to tech school and live exercises. But deployment, as I saw it, is where “Service Before Self” truly gets put to the test—the test that separates those of us who serve from those who sit on the sidelines.

After my first year in the Guard as a Public Affairs specialist, my deployment window opened and I began preparing myself. I requested the necessary gear, completed my 5-level CDCs, worked out religiously, and waited for my country to call me.

Nine months later, the call still hadn’t come. My deployment window quietly closed and would not open again for another two years.

I couldn’t understand. Isn’t everyone expected to deploy? After all, nearly every squadron at my Guard wing had deployed. Our pararescuemen and their respective air crews deployed every year in rotations. As did our Security Forces, Maintainers, Medical and Communications flights. Doesn’t PA deploy too?

“Sorry, it doesn’t work that way,” came the reply. “Public Affairs gets filtered through the Pentagon. They decide who deploys, not us.”

Unwittingly, I had chosen a job with one of the most roundabout deployment processes of any AFSC. PA is a tiny career field, too; my wing has only one full-time PA technician and a handful of Traditionals for a wing of nearly 1,000. Multiply that throughout the Air Force and you get the picture.

“Can’t I just go along with Guard members from my own wing when they deploy and as a PA do my job and document the mission?” I asked. “That’s what I do stateside, right?”

“Sorry, it doesn’t work that way…”

In my civilian life, colleagues thought I was nuts. Why would I want to deploy and potentially put myself in harm’s way? What if I came back with injuries or PTSD?

My supervisors informed me that no PA at my wing had ever deployed (though I’m certain they would do so without hesitation if asked), and with most of my colleagues either married or parenting small children, they weren’t pushing for it like I was.

In my mind, however, deployment was destiny. The call I felt to serve was downright Shakespearean, the stuff that Henry V would say to inspire his motley crew of half-starved Englishmen en route to fight the French:

“He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd… Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars… Old men forget; But he'll remember.. What feats he did that day...”

Okay, so that’s a tad over-glorified even by Shakespeare’s standards, but you get the point. When I signed on for six years with Uncle Sam, in my mind deployment was a given.

Another year came and went. After suffering a mild depression, I finally let go of my fixation on deployment and recalled what the Profession of Arms teaches us: all of our jobs support the mission, and the most important job is always our own.

With that mindset, I threw myself into my duties with renewed vigor. I wrote feature stories about up-and-coming Airmen from my wing on my own time. I became active in the Rising Six and helped plan base activities every drill. I volunteered for flag duty and half-time shows with every pro sports team in the Bay Area from the Giants and the 49’ers to the Golden State Warriors. I took on national-level TDYs whenever they asked for volunteers, including the Order of the Sword, the Chief’s Huddle and the Patriot Exercise. For the next year, my answer to every tasking was “Yes.”

The more involved I became, the more I realized the military is about much more than deployments. Every day I put on the uniform is a chance to impact someone’s life, an opportunity to represent the Air Force in the best possible light.

In late 2016, my cell phone beeped. “Senior Airman Jarvis?” asked a tech sergeant. “We’ve got an opening for a deployment next year. Another PA had to back out at the last minute. You want it?”

Like a page out of a Hollywood script, I am now deploying this year to the United Arab Emirates. Though I no longer glamorize deployment as I once did, I am grateful to be given a chance to put on the uniform every day instead of one weekend a month and to show what I can do. And I’m glad I can relieve someone overseas who is ready is to come home to loved ones. As I pack my bags, I’ll be sure to bring along everything the Air Force has taught me.