F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. | I’ve been in the Air Force almost two years now and I often find myself feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated at work and in other areas of my life. It can be easy to fall into a spiral of low morale and complaints and sometimes things don’t seem like they’ll get better. If you feel the same way, just know it’s not the end of the world and things may not be as bad as you think.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Dakota with some of my fellow Airmen to help out at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I initially thought of this as just a volunteer opportunity and a chance to get out of the office for a week, but it was so much more.

It was a chance to give back to another community and gain insight into another culture and way of life. We built bunk beds, wheel chair ramps, skirting around trailers and dug holes for outhouses. In return, we had Oglala Lakota elders come and tell us stories about their culture, sing songs and show us around the reservation.

Placed into groups and assigned to different projects around the reservation, we muddied our shoes, learned to use different tools and came together to accomplish something greater than ourselves. I have never built anything in my life, but there I was drilling, shoveling, sawing and sanding, determined to do my best for these families who have little to nothing.

I won’t lie, the work was tough and the days were long, but the experience was truly humbling. I got to take a step back from my normal routine and be a guest in someone else’s community and be present in their reality. This area is one of the most impoverished in the country with little job opportunities, low educational funding and a high teen suicide rate.

I had no cell service and I was forced to fully immerse myself in the experience, something I hadn’t done in a long time. Imagine for a second living in a home with the floors caving in, no restrooms, and multiple people living under one roof. You literally walk outside, braving the brutal, unforgiving winter winds just to use the bathroom.

This made me think back to living in the dorms on base when I complained about the small space and rules imposed on us. Now that I think about it, I had my own room, running water, food to eat and no life-threatening worries.

Getting to see first-hand the conditions the Lakota people live in gave me a greater appreciation for everything that I have. A bed to sleep on and job security are things I often take for granted.

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The best part for me was that, in the face of all these negative factors, people were so kind and I received many smiles from adults and children across the reservation. Their resilience was inspiring.

This was a good opportunity for me, as an Airman, because it gave me a chance to give back and see that many of the challenges I face on a daily basis are temporary and I can overcome them.

After this experience, I feel more aware of the problems going on outside of my own world and I will make a serious effort to focus more on the positive areas of my life rather than dwell on the negative. I think this is a great opportunity for any Airman to take advantage of and reach out to others in need.

If you’re interested in participating in a trip like this, contact the chapel at 773-3434 or your first sergeant to find out about the opportunities available to you.

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