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Curveballs: Life’s unexpected challenges

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rito Smith
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

I found out I was going to become a father just a few days after my 18th birthday. This was a time in my life where I wasn’t sure what my future held, but I knew I had to make a plan. I played around with a few ideas and discussed them with my then high school sweetheart, Jessica, but eventually decided to go to college and work as much as possible.

Life has a funny way of throwing you curveballs. Just a few months prior to my son being born I woke up, looked at Jessica and said “I’m going to join the Air Force.” I knew I needed to do something to provide for my son. She was speechless as we both come from military families and had discussed in the past that we weren’t going to go that route. Although there was some reservation, she supported me through the whole process and, eventually, I enlisted with an open contract, I was willing to do whatever job was given to me.

My son was born on August 31, 2015, and I left for basic training in early November 2015. By the time I finished basic and technical training my son was 10 months old, and I had no idea how to raise a child. A few years passed and my now wife was pregnant with our second son.

Another curveball, but we felt ready this time. We had “practice” from the first one and we were confident we would be ready for the challenge. A few years, a deployment, and tons of headaches later, I had a date to go to Airman Leadership School.

I went through ALS and learned what it meant to be a leader and an NCO in the United States Air Force. The course focused on personal communication, reaching through to someone, and connecting with them. This taught me a lot about how I could better teach my kids and help them understand the world.

I think that experience was the catalyst to help reshape my outlook on how to raise children. I learned so much about how to really get through to someone and convey how actions have consequences.  I’ve been an NCO for roughly nine months and it has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Learning that each individual is different and needs to be motivated in unique ways was an eye opener.

However, by utilizing some of the same skills it takes to be a good NCO such as the approach on how to compromise and reach an alternative has allowed me to communicate with my children on a deeper level. In ALS I learned about negotiating and reaching a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and this concept has helped me to better explain situations to the kids. I have two boys who could not be more different. The way that I need to correct and guide one child is completely opposite for the other, and being able to see that and decipher what they need has been extremely helpful.

For instance, my oldest son needs a very direct approach while the youngest needs a more one on one sensitive approach when it comes to correcting actions.

Being a father is one of the most difficult but rewarding things in the world. In many ways, I’m responsible for deciding the outcome of my children’s lives. My actions as a father directly impact my children and their perceptions of the world. Just like my actions as an NCO directly impact my troops’ perceptions of leadership and the Air Force.

I truly believe becoming an NCO has made me a better father and being a father has made me a better NCO. If there’s one constant of both, it’s that you’re always learning, and things are always changing.