I have been in a battle.
As many of ya'll know, I have been in a battle against... well, myself. In October 2010, my body started attacking itself. It started with a sore ankle. When I say sore, I mean I couldn't put any weight on it. It eventually spread to both ankles, both knees, both wrists, my right elbow and the lower left side of my back. The best way I have found to describe the pain to doctors and people who inquire about my pain is with this illustration. You know when a car window breaks and the little odd shaped bits of safety glass are everywhere? Well, when you walk on the pile of it, they grind together and make the hair on the back of your neck stand up... yes, that's what it is like. When the pain is at it's worst in my elbow and wrists, it's hard to grip a 1/2 gallon carton of milk without using both hands.
What is wrong with me? Well, your guess is as good as the doctors who "practice" medicine at the clinic... yes, that license definitely says "to PRACTICE" medicine. They tested me for everything from Parvo (yes, humans can get Parvo too) to Lyme disease to numerous off they wall conditions. I honestly was opting to go meet Dr. House and have him kill me for 20 seconds to find out exactly what is wrong with me! They finally settled on early degenerative osteoarthritis. But what does this mean? Well, it meant that it was time for the military to decide if I was fit to continue serving. Last week, the results came back.
The military found that my condition has caused me to become unfit to continue for 3 1/2 more years in the Air Force... 3 1/2 more years till my 20 years and my outright retirement. So, what does this mean for me and my family? Well, there are some good things and some bad things.
1. The military has offered a retirement... a Temporary Retirement... which is about as weird as it sounds, with a ton of rules and restrictions that still leaves my family's future in jeopardy. I have to fight for permanent retirement.
2. The way the wording was on the Medical Board's findings opened a door to possibly get my Master Sergeant promotion back. I may not get to wear it that long, but I earned that stripe. There's something about being denied something you know you deserve. I will have to fight for it, but honestly, what do I have to lose right now? I'm no more a Master Sergeant now than I would be if they told me no again.
3. Hurt pride. Yes, pride... I know we are not supposed to be prideful, but I committed to doing 20 years and a day, and it is a punch to the gut to not be able to achieve that goal. It was something that I had decided almost 7 years ago when I surpassed that pivotal 10 year point. If you noticed with 1 & 2 above, it was something I had to fight for. Honestly, I am done fighting. We have fought as a family to try to get the military to help me, but to no avail. There's only so much fighting you can do until you are too tired. I totally understand & sympathize with Lance Armstrong here... when fighting becomes your sole focus, you really lose a lot of your life.
4. I have never known real work outside the military. Yeah, I held some jobs... cleaning fence rows at South Mississippi Electric Power Association in Purvis, praying I wouldn't get bit by a rattlesnake. Gas station attendant at Big K in Purvis, which oddly enough prepped me pretty well to be a day shift F-15 Strike Eagle maintainer! I worked at the Library in Poplarville, MS, as a work study student, which actually prepped me pretty well for all the reading & regulations & military doctrine I'd face in ATC & Combat Airspace. Oh yeah, then there was the stint as a stock handler at Poplarville Stockyard... uh, something about 2000lb crazy bulls running down a 10 foot wide lane wanting to kill you... the running of the bulls has nothing on some of them crazy cattle! Needless to say, no real work experience that I can fall back on there.
5. I have zero clue on how to negotiate a salary. I realize how unprepared the military makes you for civilian life. Yes, they have what they call TAP (Transition Assistance Program), which is required by Federal law, but really, 5 or 10 days to teach you how to assimilate into civilian life... not quite sure how far you can get. It's much like the episodes with the Borg in Star Trek... "Resistance is futile!" "You will be assimilated!" On a side note... don't tell our friend, Holden, that I just totally geeked out with Star Trek reference... I think he'd have a coronary, then proceed to talk my ear off about all things Sci-Fi that I know nothing of! LOL!
6. In the past nearly 17 years, I have had to commit 0.0 seconds worth of brain power toward what I will wear to work each day. Blues, BDUs/ABUs, or PT Gear... pretty easy when your entire wardrobe for work consists of 3 outfits. I have no professional attire, other than the shirt, tie & khaki's I bought to bust Griffin out of the orphanage. Guess who has 2 thumbs and needs to go shopping?
7. I have learned that many people do not know the meaning of stress. Lots of folks generally think that since I am an air traffic controller, that I handle stress well. Yes, I can talk to a pattern full of aircraft and get them to fall into place like an 8 year-old geek with a Rubik's Cube, but when faced with the inevitable loss of a job that pays for 100% of your medical bills and your house, stress takes on a whole new meaning. I know I will find a job that will take care of the bills, but anyone who says it doesn't weigh on their minds is lying to themselves.
Tomorrow, at 2pm, I have to make a decision that could affect my family's future for quite some time. I have to decide to accept the Temporary Retirement, and all it's restrictions, or to opt to fly to San Antonio to once again enter the fray and fight for the Permanent Retirement which I feel I have earned and deserve due to the condition that was aggravated by my service to our great country. Yes, I will be going to fight for what I think is right. I will be fighting a battle on two fronts... for my rank and for my retirement... but more importantly, I'm going to go fight tooth & nail for my family and for the security of our future!
Please keep me & my family in your prayers during this time. It won't be easy, but I know God has a bigger plan for us... Here we are Lord, send us! (Isaiah 6:8)
I'm married to an amazing man and I love him. <3
God will provide!