Our latest post comes from Jamie Vansickle, an Air Force Lieutenant who joined our Military Mentors team earlier this year as the Director of Operations (please see her bio at the link). Her prior service experience, combined with her continued leadership as an officer in the Air Force and local community service focus brings a depth and richness to our team. In this post she opens up about first joining the service, what it means to her today, what being a part of Military Mentors means for her, and relays the story of a powerful mentorship experience she had early on that changed not only her career, but who she is today.
I have been on active duty for over 12 years – almost half my life. When I look back at my life prior to joining, it almost feels like those memories belong to someone else, or like that other person was never me. The service is so deeply ingrained in my life that it has completely changed who I am as a person. I can’t even carry things in my right hand (out of uniform) without feeling weird about it since I’m used to keeping it free to salute. On several occasions, I’ve put my military hat on in civilian clothes. But what some may call an impressive career (and one that’s no where near complete) almost didn’t happen at all. Thankfully, I had the right mentor at the right time.
When I joined the service, I was 20 years old, a little older than my counterparts who mostly joined right out of high school. I was older but certainly no wiser. After high school, I had bounced around from dead end job to dead end job without ever finding a true home and when I ran out of couches to sleep on, my mom suggested I join the Air Force. I did just that and I never looked back, becoming a member of Security Forces. However, learning the rules, adherence to policy, and a little thing called The Uniform Code of Military Justice were lessons I had to learn the hard way on several occasions.
During one such occasion, after less than a year in the Air Force, I got in trouble and was relieved of duty. This means they took my weapon, wouldn’t let me arm up, and took me off of daily flight. I soon found myself shredding paper all day, awaiting final judgment. You should know that Security Forces, a career field in which I spent over a decade, has a strict culture of guilt by association. For that reason, when someone is in trouble, they are essentially a social pariah. No one wanted to be seen with me or talk to me for fear of having some of my ‘trouble’ rub off on them. Being relieved of duty is a difficult experience to go through and it’s even harder without a support system. I was ready to give up the military and just call it quits. Obviously, this military life just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t going to come back from this so there was no reason to keep trying…
Enter SSgt Kodia. He was one of the flight chiefs and he would not let me quit. He stuck by me, encouraged me, and advised me on how to get past my mistake. He could have turned away from me like the rest of the squadron, but he didn’t. He convinced me to start taking college classes to begin working on my degree. He also gave me other ideas for ways to shed the negative image my leaders had of me. He got me volunteering regularly for squadron- and base-level events and studying harder for my annual certification tests. Because of his belief in me and his pushing me to accomplish more, I now have my associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. I also earned an Exceptionally Well Qualified score (over 90%) on my certification tests 9 times during my 10 years in Security Forces. I even went on to commission, becoming an acquisitions officer in 2017.
Today, I’m the Veteran Engagement Director for Team Red, White, and Blue Boston, a veteran outreach nonprofit organization that seeks to enrich the lives of veterans through physical and social events. I’m also took on the great opportunity of becoming the Director of Operations for Military Mentors. I am directly helping both active duty and veterans on a daily basis, ensuring they don’t fall through the cracks. I work regularly to ensure our military service members have what they need to succeed, both on and off duty, and that they (you) have the skills to bring others up behind you. The entire purpose of our organization is to ensure everyone knows how to be our best version of a SSgt Kodia.
When times are tough and you know someone is going through a difficult time, how do you deal with it? Do you turn away and hope the issue fixes itself? Do you engage? Do you know what motivates them, what their home life is like, and what other issues they may be dealing with? Do you know when someone needs you? If not, maybe it’s time to find your own SSgt Kodia. He certainly changed my life and I wouldn’t be here without him.
Start a conversation, spark a transformation.