Almost every veteran or current service member can probably recall their very first interaction with the military. The day you step off that plane and board a bus that takes you to where ever it is you are assigned for basic training. That day everyone is looked at as an equal — we are all clueless and unsure of what lies ahead of us for the weeks and months that follow. On that day everything you previously knew has no weight or impact on you. It is as if you have a new chance at life, and it is up to you to make it the best or worst possible for yourself.
After those first few days you start to learn one very valuable lesson, a lesson that is forever ingrained in our mind that we can never stray away from it even once we leave the military. That lesson is PUNCTUALITY. At first it takes a little bit to understand why it is so important, but the more you “shut up and color” — as it is referred to — the more you understand that something as simple as being punctual or meeting a deadline is a trait that is needed for your entire military career and the rest of your life.
I will never forget the first run in with my drill sergeant with being punctual. At the time none of it made sense, the reasoning was not apparent, and it just seemed all together stupid. He had all 54 of the members in our flight stand at the foot of our beds and kept telling us to go to our wall lockers. We would go back and forth between those two places for what seemed like hours. As we would run to our wall lockers, you would just hear him say “DO IT AGAIN!!” From that moment I knew that everything needed to be done with a sense of urgency and to be done the exact moment I was instructed to do it.
The days and weeks that followed we would have to be awake and in our PT gear before he showed up every morning and lined up waiting. After PT, it was a race to have the beds made, showers done, and dorm completely cleaned. If your flight didn’t get things done in a quick manor and done correctly that was less time you had to eat. Every flight raced to be the first in the chow line, if you weren’t first you had a better chance to be called to the “snake pit” or less time to eat in general. Everything that followed until sundown was run by the clock and being on time for everything. All the classes and activities required you to show up not just on time but early. I was always told if you show up on time you are late and if you are 15 minutes early then you are on time.
Upon graduating basic training this lesson proved real pivotal in my job as a ceremonial guardsman. No matter which ceremony it was you had to show up early to rehearse it and then be ready early in case the ceremony started earlier than planned. This was very important when it came to our primary mission, which was doing all the funerals for the deceased Air Force members in Arlington National Cemetery. At that time it was no longer about you or what you might have planned for the night following or what happened the night before. That moment, no matter how long or brief, was for the family members. For most it would be the first, last and only military experience for them. It was also a time to give thanks and remember the fallen with dignity and respect. An event as meaningful as that is something that you can never show up late for, and the ceremony does not wait for you if you are late. In the over 2,000 funerals I was part of, not once did I show up late. We all made sure to be waiting quietly for the family to show up with the remains every time.
From there it followed me to my next assignment as a low observable aircraft structural maintainer, which is removing and repairing the stealth characteristics on the B-2, F-22 and F-35. It wasn’t as apparent as just showing up to work on time but we would have deadlines to meet for repairing the aircraft. If you were told you had four weeks to fix the jet, you didn’t get a single day more, and not having it finished was not an option. At any moment we might have needed them to go oversees for a mission.
It may seem like a much overlooked trait that everyone takes with them from the military, but it is one that is forever a part of me and I don’t regret getting the opportunity to learn it. There are many traits that I picked up from the military that I will never lose, but to me this is the biggest one and the one that impacts my daily life on a regular basis. From being to class on time to showing up to work on time. Every move we make throughout the day is impacted either positively or negatively by our punctuality.