The military saved my life.

The military saved my life.

I was 24-years-old. I called my best friend John, a Marine, and cried to him. I felt lost, useless, miserable. At 24-years-old, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew there was more to life out there, but I didn’t know how to find it. I didn’t know how to discover what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to become.

John explained there was a point in his life where he felt lost too. He joined the military and it helped him to feel whole, like he was part of something bigger than himself.

He recommended I do the same.

So, I did.

On May 25, 2010, I flew to San Antonio, Texas, my home for the next 8 1/2 weeks of my life. After basic training I attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Following 9-months of countless hours of training, I failed out.

For the first time in my life, I had failed.

That’s when my leadership gave me two options. I could either re-class, which meant start a new technical school with a new job, or I could go home.

I wanted to go home.

I wanted to go home so bad.

This journey that John promised would help me find myself, wasn’t helping me at all. I was still lost, only now I was 25-years-old, without a job, a home or a car.

A phone call home to my mom changed my decision to jump on that plane back to Wisconsin. She said something I will forever be grateful for. It went something like this, “Andrea, you joined for a reason. Would you really be happy coming home? Or would you be happier finishing what you started?”

She was right.

Why are moms always right?

The next day I dug through a book filled with different Air Force Specialty Codes, various occupations I could choose from to continue my military journey — the journey intended to help me find myself. I was told to write down seven different occupations. The first six were intelligence jobs. My top secret security clearance would’ve helped me secure any of those that I wanted, so I chose those six as a safety-net. Then, for my number seven pick, I chose photojournalism. Maybe, just maybe, I’d luck out with a fun job like that. Getting paid to take photos sounded like a dream job.

A couple days later I got the call. I would be heading to the East coast to become an Air Force photojournalist. Imagine the excitement of my 25-year-old self now! The excitement of a second chance, another opportunity to prove myself.

I rented a car and spent nine days driving my things across the United States to more new territory, only this time felt different than the others. This time I knew what it felt like to fail.

What I hadn’t discovered yet, something my new school taught me shortly after my arrival, was that I already knew how to write. I could put my fingers on a keyboard and type out stories that others could actually relate to. I could share memories and feelings and experiences through my words that others took to heart. Through my writing, I could help people get through trying times they themselves didn’t feel like they could get through.

That skill alone has transformed my life — writing has allowed me to transform others’ lives too.

If I had never joined the military, who knows where I would be right now.

The military saved my life.

When we are out and about in uniform, people often come up to us and thank us for our service. I usually respond with a thank you. Not because I’m thankful that they are thankful, even though I definitely am. I’m more thankful that because of their support, I was able to discover who I was meant to be and who I was meant to help. Their words of encouragement led me to learn a skill that I now use in my civilian job to positively impact the lives of others.

Here’s the kicker, I’m just one. I’m a part of a much bigger military family. When others show their support, they are helping hundreds, thousands, millions of others, just like me, find themselves. Their positivity helps all of us become better sons and daughters, better moms and dads, better citizens of this beautiful country we call home.

About Tech. Sgt. Andrea F. Rhode

Tech. Sgt. Andrea F. Rhode is a photojournalist for the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin.