Motivations: Joining The Air Force

Guest Writer: Steven Orzech; Illinois

Sitting there in that room, waiting. I had all of my paperwork sitting in front of me. I was sitting at one of those wooden desks. The ones that somehow are comfortable, and uncomfortable at the same time. With just enough space to write on, but no more than that. I was sitting in the middle of the room, with others all around me. The room was long and narrow, and it did not have any windows to speak off. Perhaps they wanted everyone to be uncomfortable, though for something like this you'd think they would want people happy, and willing. I suppose at this point in the process, it was too late for that. 

I had effectively already signed over my life. That did not stop me from wondering what brought me to this point. I knew why I had wanted to join. I wanted to get into the space field, and I thought this would be a good route to take. What I don't know is why this option is the one I ended up choosing, when there were others I could have gone with. I like to say, “It’s not the reward, it’s the challenge”. This phrase guided me in my decision, and the path I decided. This path would surely be a challenging one, though this did not answer my question. It was not the technical reason I wanted to know about; it was the heart of the choice I wanted to understand. What was it that drove me to this choice in the first place and what was it that inspired the choice?  There is a memory I have, that kept entering my mind. One that could be seen as an inspiration. I had never considered it an option, yet it keeps entering my mind in this moment.

I had just turned 16 years old eight days before and the school year had just recently started. I wish I had my license at this point, but I had broken my arm during the summer and only recently had started doing the driving portion of getting a license. It was a Tuesday, so the dread of going back to school on Monday was past, now it was just a long trek to the weekend. I had only had one class up until this point, not that I could remember what class it was. The halls in between classes where surprisingly empty, except for key locations. They had set up TV’s all around the school, placed in heavy traffic areas. The one I found myself at was very close to my locker and not that far from my next class. It was placed in front of a large window that overlooked the back of the school. You could see the sports field from this window and the back of the auto shop. 

It was September 11th, 2001. At this point the first plane had struck the first tower, the second plane had not come yet. Thinking back, I am surprised they had put TV’s in the halls before things started to become, obvious. At this point most people still figured it was a big accident. I wonder if the teachers understood more than us students. I remember staying in the hallway for quite a bit. I don't know if I skipped a class or not, my guess is most of the teachers did not care.  During my time in the hallway, the second plane had hit the other tower. At this point there was no question, it was not an accident. Everyone standing around agreed it was an attack, even us teenagers who knew little of the world understood that. I eventually left that area as I had another class to get to.

My next class was a history class and the teacher was one of my favorite teachers. It was the last class I went to as the school let everyone out early, around lunch time. My teacher had already set up a TV in the room and had the news on as we entered the class. He fully intended us to watch the news for the entire class. I remember him telling us we needed to watch this, this was history in the making. At the time, I could not really understand the concept. I understood how it would become history, but did not understand the feeling of it as history. Of course, now I understand it, but I also understand it as my own personal history. During the class, I believe one of the towers fell. We watched the news coverage the entire class, only stopping when they announced they where letting the students go. 

I don't remember anything specific happening the rest of the day, mostly just more news coverage of the second tower falling and the other attacks. Now, the only difference was I was at home watching with my family. I do remember the big events after this. Like how everyone had the US flag up on their homes the next day. I remember the information coming out during the next few weeks and the word “terrorism” finding its legs. Life does move on, especially for a 16-year-old boy. I had finally gotten my license a month later after completing my driving portion. After that, my world changed into one of freedom. Thinking only of getting a car and finishing school. I do remember our graduating class having a lot of people who joined the military directly related to 9/11, I never paid much attention myself.

So here I am, sitting at a desk with 20 other people, sitting in the Military Entrance Processing Station. I am 22 years old and about to join the Air Force. Though I suppose I have already; all the paperwork was already done. The only thing left to do was to recite the oath of enlistment. September 11th has sat in my mind for years, just like it has for many others. It changed the U.S. and its people. It had also kicked off the longest war in my lifetime, a war that I would be directly involved in. It had affected me more than I thought. Many people joined for college, and many joined to defend their country. I had not considered school when deciding and I didn’t think I choose this out of some kind of patriotism. 

The military had never been a consideration in my life, not even as a child. My grandfather had served, but that was never really talked about. He never talked about it, unless asked. I never had anyone close to me who had served or who talked about serving as something more than having no choice. I wanted to get into the space field, but I could have done that though many other ways. I did not need to join the Air Force. We had moved into a small room, with the U.S. flag in the front. Here I was, standing with the others, preparing to recite our oath. The flag was waiting for our words of patriotism. September 11th had affected me more than I could have imagined, more than I had considered. I am sure that I would not be here if it did not happen. I would have found a different option. I might have considered the Air Force, but I would have never acted on it. I know now that September 11th will forever be a part of me, one that defines me. Today it defines me in a large way, today I give my oath to the United States. I, Steven Orzech, do solemnly swear.

About Steven Orzech: 

Steven Orzech is a philosophy major, and a creative writing minor. He is from Cary, IL and is an Air Force Veteran. He served for 4 years before leaving to go back to school.