120117-pat-forward

An unarmed U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test May 3, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., launched the Minuteman III ICBM equipped with a single test reentry vehicle. 

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. | Bruce Lee said, “…Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

I can’t think of a better way to look at life. Ever since I heard him say these words they have evolved in meaning and impact throughout my life. Whether it was the realization of not being able to afford college, or the actualization of being part of the Air Force, I could pick out points were I knew I needed to react correctly if I wanted to keep flowing. As cheesy as it might sound, I think it’s important that everyone find some way to keep driving forward, be it little victories or finding their purpose in life.

When I was asked to write about my moment of realization as a nuclear maintenance technician, I had a hard time figuring out how to articulate the emotions I felt when I worked on my first real weapon, or when I saw a test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Both instances left me speechless, because in those moments I knew that what I was doing and witnessing were something so incredibly larger than life. It was like reading a book, or watching a TV show, and seeing the plot evolve in a way that made everything make sense.

Through basic training, nuclear maintenance technician technical school and all of my on the job training here at Malmstrom, multiple months were spent leading up to me finally getting to work on what I signed on for. Toward the end of working my first week as a fully certified crew member, I knew that I had helped lead to maintaining the security of American lives and the lives of our allies. Something that we get told constantly, yet is easily forgotten when performing the daily grind.

In the grand scheme, a little over a year of maintenance isn’t that long for a career Airman, but to someone just starting out it felt like a lifetime. Week after week of doing the same task after task will wear and tear at anyone’s drive, and unfortunately, I have seen good people get worn down. The most important thing that kept me motivated was understanding that no matter what was happening, I was better here as a member of the Air Force, as opposed to where I could have been. After struggling through the financial suffocation of college and trying to work at a call center to get by, I knew I couldn’t do that. I needed something that could set me up for success in the future and help me feel as though I was creating a positive impact.

Another thing that motivated me was my opportunity to go to Vandenberg AFB for an intercontinental ballistic missile test launch. The crunching gravel beneath my boots after a long day of being shown around the base seemed so relaxing. The mild humidity clung to my skin and the chill in the air cut ever so slightly. Every couple of minutes a booming voice would sound off on what process they were at. Finally… “lift off”… calm words on a calm night flooded my mind with emotions. Thrusters ignited causing bright oranges and yellows illuminating the dark evening sky. Seconds went by before the sound wave impacted my ears, and it took that long for me to process what was happening.

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Even though I was not responsible for putting this particular system together, or even tearing it down, it helped put my everyday job as a nuclear maintenance technician back into perspective. In my head I thought, “This is what it’s about: Ensuring that this happens if it needs to.” A concept that wasn’t new to me, but in the silence of awe it’s the only thing I could muster. I was witnessing firsthand as the U.S. Air Force once again proved to the world that we are here…we are capable…and we are ready.

I’m not sure what I want people to take from this article, but I hope that someone can get something from it. Whether it be brightening someone’s day by giving them a laugh at how silly it seems, or even impacting how someone views their own process. Be it sharpening iron with iron or viewing yourself as water, I know everyone has their own “thing” to drive them forward. Be water my friends.

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Managing editor

Chris Huber is the managing editor at the Rapid City Journal.