What it’s like having six kids? Where does the phrase “Chair Force” come from? And what the hell do you wear on your first day at work as a civilian? Michael is today’s #YOUAREGOVX member, a USAF vet and current aircraft engine mechanic. He’s worked on C-17s, F-16s, F-15s, and C-130s. Keeping planes flying isn’t just his business … it’s his passion.
Becoming a civilian again.
My dad told me the hardest thing about retiring from the military was what to wear to work the next day. You spend so long wearing the same uniform every day that you never have to think about what to wear. Once you’re in the civilian sector, you actually have to worry about that. I can’t remember how long I swore off the razor after shaving every day for 6 years.
You get used to a certain way of life in the military that doesn’t exist in the civilian world.
Transitioning from military to the civilian sector was difficult. A lot of employers want to hire prior service members because of their work ethic, loyalty, and discipline. Unfortunately, not a lot of employers are willing to pay what our job skills command. I attended one interview where they told me they could only offer $10-12 per hour. That’s horrible. You get used to a certain way of life with the military that doesn’t exist in the civilian world, and it can be very hard to transition for some people.
From a personal standpoint, it was also different because I was used to a certain way of life in the military, where I knew I could count on those around me at all times. The civilian life seems to be a lookout-for-yourself life. It seems like the only people that will step in and help you are other veterans. I can’t always rely on the civilian life for that kind of support. I see people who are lazy and only work for a pay check. I think you should do your job to the best of your ability, not just the bare minimum. This is why a lot of prior military people try to find jobs where there are other veterans because they understand each other.
It reminds me of a flight chief I knew and admired. He expected people to be able to correct him if they saw him doing something wrong. His exact words: “I’m not worth the stripes on my sleeve if I can’t handle being corrected, and you’re not worth the stripes on your sleeve if you can’t correct me.” Those words have stuck with me for the past 13 years, and I used that as a supervisor in the military and in other positions since the military.
On valuing your work.
Seeing an aircraft land safely, knowing that the aircrew made it home safe once again and they get to see their family—THAT is my value in my work.
If you don’t value your own work, then why do it? Your work speaks volumes about you, no matter what the job is. Be willing to do the job you agreed to do, and do it to the best of your ability. My pride and job satisfaction comes from knowing an engine I built or repaired operates as expected. Seeing an aircraft land safely, knowing that the aircrew made it home safe once again and they get to see their family—THAT is my value in my work. It’s not about how many engines I can build, it’s about an aircraft being able to do its mission and bring the aircrew home safely each time.
The Air Force’s main purpose is to fix and fly aircraft. That’s it. There are other missions we do, but fixing and flying is the main objective. Because of this, we have lower physical fitness standards, and we don’t dig fox holes or do a lot of field training like the Marines or the Army. For this, it’s seen as the easiest of all the branches.
Each branch makes fun of the others, and that will never stop. You’ve got your jarheads (Marines), grunts (Army), squids (Navy), and flyboys (Air Force). Each branch thinks they are better than the others for various reasons. I say each branch does what they’re meant for. The Air Force cannot do what the Marines, Army, or Navy can do, just like none of these branches can do what the Air Force does, at least not in the same capacity. People can make fun of whatever branch they want, but when it comes down to it, we all work together. I will say that the taunting or trash talk is only accepted from other veterans. If someone that has never served starts talking trash, it is not taken very lightly.
Here’s what really matters: Accomplishing the mission. It doesn’t matter what branch you are in. All of the branches have to work together in order to complete the mission.
Working and living in Saudi Arabia.
Working with the Royal Saudi Air Force was quite the experience. Their military isn’t really a military in my opinion, at least not compared to what I am used to. With their military, they have to apply to separate or retire. Commanding officers are able to deny their request, so their lower ranking individuals won’t put forth much effort to learn their jobs because they are afraid the military won’t let them leave. Their maintenance practices are very scary. Working there, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and understanding why our military has the safety and quality standards they do. I’ve seen what complete chaos looks like, and it’s scary. Let’s just say there’s no way I would take a ride in any of their aircraft.
But, for the three years I lived in Saudi Arabia, I was shown nothing but respect. I was invited to a few of their homes and to some of their parties. Their world and their culture is very different from ours, but it works for them. It is hard to adapt to for some, and I was a guest there. I had a hard time adapting because getting work done isn’t exactly their strong suit. Let’s just say molasses on a cold December day moves faster than they do at times.
From military man to family man.
When I would get home, I wasn’t a Staff Sergeant anymore. I was just Michael. Or Dad.
Getting married and having a family is by far the greatest thing I’ve done with my life, other than joining the military. Maintaining the family mission is a daily struggle at times, but it’s what I asked for. Transitioning from military to civilian life in terms of family wasn’t very hard. It was almost like a light switch for me. When I would get off work and go home, I wasn’t SSgt. Direen anymore. I was just Michael. Or Dad. I just had to get used to working for people that hadn’t been in the military. It took some time to get used to. While I miss plenty about the military, there’s plenty I don’t miss. I still serve my country today, but in a different capacity. Thinking about it, I will always have a job that deals with the military in some capacity. I’ve been around the military every day of my life, even after leaving it. It’s who I am.