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Gaining character through uncertainty

U.S. Air Force 1st. Lt. Brandon Hanner pauses for an official photo.

U.S. Air Force 1st. Lt. Brandon Hanner pauses for an official photo.

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

There I stood, 22 years ago, staring in awe of a sight and sound I had never heard before. It was the loudest, yet most glorious sound my young ears had ever heard. The sound of an F-16 Fighting Falcon screaming by at an air show in Stuart, Florida. 

That was a life defining moment for me and I even said to myself, “THAT is what I want to do.” There began my long road to pursuing becoming a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. After high school, I joined Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Central Florida, married my middle school sweetheart, Ashley, and introduced our boy, Ethan, into the world. They are my foundation, especially throughout the ups and downs of my ROTC journey.Throughout my life up to that point, I only knew what success felt like, from graduating in the top of my class in high school to varsity baseball captain. But in 2014, I faced not success, but uncertainty. I was told I did not make the cut to go to Field Training at Maxwell AFB, Alabama to become an officer. 

How could this happen? I worked so hard. I knew for certain I had it!

After breaking the news, my wife said, “You can’t change what has happened. If this is what you want, go get it”

Gratefully, I was able to repeat my second year and I went on to Field Training, earned my pilot slot with my boy sitting on my lap when I reported in and received the Distinguished Graduate Award out of ROTC. That step was done, and it was time to fly. 

Life has a funny way of telling you when things aren’t right, even though you know in your gut they are. As I progressed through pilot training, it didn’t feel like I imagined it. Not because it was boring or I wasn’t doing well, it was because I didn’t feel at home. I spent countless hours away and I could see the impact on my family, especially my son. That is when uncertainty struck again, but by choice this time.

I decided the lifestyle wasn’t for me and chose to withdraw from pilot training. The hardest, yet easiest decision of my life. I was giving up something I literally worked my whole life for, but it was for my family. 

What do I do now? I had not the first clue. But I was alive, and my family was in good health. That is what mattered to me.

Shortly after, I arrived at MacDill as a public affairs officer, with no idea what that even meant or what my future looked like. Once I finally settled in, it was awesome. But that thing I became so familiar with paid another visit. 

The same year I left my childhood dream behind, started a job I knew nothing about, I was told I had cancer. Talk about shock and uncertainty. So many questions ran through my mind and I had no idea how to handle the news initially, except to remind myself that I am here now so make the most of it. Thankfully, it was caught early, and I have been cancer-free for almost two years.

Life has a way of pressing your buttons and throwing adversity at you when you least expect it, but once you endure through those times, turn the table on them and carry the scars as lessons. During this journey, I have learned the value of family, humility, perseverance, perspective and resiliency. All things I carry with me in my leadership and the lessons I will teach my children, while trying to best the best example of each. Be proud of your experiences and use them to drive a better future.