Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catching a Break

So as you may have gathered if you've read my previous entries, I work in our school's engineering department.  My job entails working with the faculty, students, and technology requisite for a full-blown engineering curriculum.

I really enjoy my position. It gives me opportunities to interact with the faculty and learn about administering technology on a large scale. Although I normally love my job, sometimes it can get pretty hectic.  This evening I was in the computer lab punching out for the night, and I noticed that the professor who used the lab last failed to turn off the projector.  This is pretty typical of the technological oversight that we see on a daily basis.  It really keeps our work interesting. Although well-meaning, the professors and students naturally don't see things from our point of view. So they don't understand how leaving a projector on could burn out a $500 bulb, or how not cleaning up from a lab experiment leaves me with a few minutes of work for each student. Multiply that by 20 students per class and several classes every day and it can leave me with hours of cleanup.

Not only can the people in my job make things difficult. Technology really has a way of slowing things down when it doesn't function correctly. As I was punching out this evening, the computer was taking very long to log on and open up the browser.   We are still running Windows Vista on the machines, and they are very slow to boot up.  As I am getting frustrated at this second issue confronting me on my way out the door, I noticed a beautiful sunset out the window.  Outside our main academic building, the vibrant colors filled the sky as the U.S. flag hung above the horizon.  It was a striking sight.

I can get so focused on the people, technology and protocols that I interact with on a daily basis.  So much so that they begin to define and encompass my life.  Sometimes I forget that there is a whole gorgeous world outside waiting for me to take the time to appreciate it.  Next time I am waiting on a slow computer or biting my fingernails because the internet is down, I'll take a break from the coffee, laptops, and oscilliscopes, and walk over to a window and see what is going on outside in the real world.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Get the T-Shirt!!!

Seems like one's college career can be illustrated by a closet full of T-shirts.  Regardless of the activity, somebody will make a shirt to commemorate it.

In my college experience, this takes the form of Air Force ROTC apparel ... shirts for each semester, special activity, extracurricular club, Field Training unit and flight ...

In the past, I have taken the position that the $10-15 for each one was generally a waste, since I already have plenty of clothes.  When I inprocessed to Field Training this summer, I passed up the chance to get a unit shirt, since the memorabilia package was fairly expensive and I didn't think Field Training was a big enough deal to need its own article of clothing in my closet.

Halfway through Field Training, we made a flight T-shirt for our team of 21.  I decided to get that one, because I had grown close to the other flight members during the whole process.  I actually began to regret not getting the unit shirt.

Why am I making such a big deal about T-shirts?  Because to me they have come to signify appreciating the stage of life you are at.  It is recognizing that where you are right now is important enough to cost you a little bit of money and take up mental and physical shelf space.

So next time you have an opportunity to buy a commemorative T-shirt, instead of discounting the present, go ahead and take time to congratulate yourself on the present time that you find yourself in.  You might end up having a stack of them taking up space in your closet, but it will be a stack of memories that you can wear!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jumping the gun has advantages!

Just finished my first day of work, it feels great to get back into the old rhythms.  I had some concerns that I might not get my old job back, but I was able to make my class schedule work very well with the new work schedule.

We have had the labs operational for the past year of the two total that I have worked in this job.  It is a great feeling to get to work before school starts, and have a few days to set up some protocol to avoid the problems we have had in the past.

I've made a couple trips with friends to a local lake, and tonight I enjoyed a great dinner downtown with a friend.  Starting my third year here is great not only for the job situation but also for my friendships - two years is a long time.  I really am starting to feel like I am growing roots at this school.

Here's a link to my continuing picture album for this fall:

Well, sorry I don't have anything inspirational tonight.  I will try to not let this blog lapse into a daily diary.  Tomorrow brings the weekend and I should have some good time to relax, think, and write.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So begins the semester ... ...

So we just wrapped up freshman orientation into AFROTC yesterday.  I had the privilege of teaching tactical marching, room clearing, and first aid.

I don't have much to say about this other than it was alot of fun, and was an excellent introduction to my leadership position this semester.  It was very cool to be on the other side of the fence, and get some real responsibility.  Having the latitude to set up a plan and then go execute it was a great experience.

I found out during orientation that my main responsibility this semester is attendance record keeping for the entire detachment, and importing the attendance into a "points tracker" which gives each cadet a personal score based on how many events they attended.  This is a huge task as this personal score is a big factor in a cadet's ranking in the detachment, which in turn determines if that cadet can stay in AFROTC or get a scholarship.

This brings to mind Weird Al's parody of "It's All About the Benjamins," specifically the line "They call me the king of the spreadsheets, I got 'em all printed out on my bedsheets." ROFL!  I will definitely be putting in some Excel time, hopefully can keep it off of the linens.

A link to AF101 pictures and video:!115&Bpub=SDX.Docs&Bsrc=GetSharingLink&authkey=I4ZyydwzGgc%24

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Switching Ruts on the Road of Life

Cultural wisdom says that ruts are bad.  Repetition leads to boredom.  Newer is better.

I am sitting in church this morning, and the choir starts their number for the morning service.  Now it has been years since I have had the pleasure of hearing a good old-fashioned church choir, with their timeless harmonies and instrumental backup.  Really one of the purest forms of music around.  They are singing "In Christ Alone," a song which meant alot to me when we sang it in chapel my freshman year.  Here are the lyrics if you want to read them.

The words are very inspirational to me.  The song progresses through Christ's life, showing that through his love we are comforted, through His death we are justified, and through His resurrection we have power.  It is emphasizing the power of the exchanged life in Christ and how we can find our all in Him.  This song was very special to me when I was facing a test or other challenge my first year of college.  It helped me to realize that I was not alone in my own strength.

So as I am having fond memories and appreciating the deep spiritual truths of this song, the choir switches to a verse from Amazing Grace.  For a kid who grew up in an independent Baptist church in Smyrna, Georgia, I really appreciate the use of classic hymns in a modern, relevant musical setting.  In fact, now I'm starting to envy the choir.  Although my voice is probably best reserved for singing in the car along with The Eagles, Chicago, or REO where only a copilot is forced to listen, I wish I could partake in these awesome songs.

Then the music leader does something I have never seen in 22 years of church attendance.

He invites the congregation to stand and join in with the choir.

How did I have this marvelous experience?'

For the past two years at school, I have had a rocky church experience.  I started going to campus church, but for someone who has the religious background I described above, fog machines and disco lights don't make you feel very comfortable.  I tried a local southern baptist church, but let's just say my age group wasn't very well represented.  I had finally attended Jerry Falwell's church on the other side of campus, but I didn't like the idea of my spiritual life taking the Falwell brand in addition to my school and work life.

The only bright spot in my church attendance had been when I was home in Phoenix, attending my family's churches.  I enjoyed the welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.  So much so that I started to doubt if the more conservative East Coast environment had anything that could match the T-shirt, shorts and flip flop attire of the Arizona congregations.

Fast forward to my first weekend at school.  I decided to go with my friend Nate to a local church he has attended in the past.  I felt welcomed, and appreciated the whole service, especially the part I described above.

So are ruts in life all bad?  They can be, but I think repetition is an important part of a balanced life.  I look forward to establishing a new tradition of attending a church, quite possibly this one, every weekend while at school.

So when life gives you time to catch up and take a breath - for me this is the beginning of a school semester - take the chance to evaluate the ruts you are in, and decide if you need to switch tracks on the road of life!  You just might find yourself settling into a new routine and singing along to your favorite song.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I learn about free-spirited decision making

This Friday, I was privileged to work with a local high school cross-country team as an evaluator at a local obstacle course. My AFROTC detachment uses this course to teach team building, as all the obstacles require multiple participants to complete. Several cadets and I have been volunteering at this course, as it is privately owned and operated. After a year of grass mowing and general maintenance around the place a few times a semester, we were invited to come and evaluate this cross-country team, coming as a beginning of semester team-building exercise.

Our group of cadets had already done the obstacles twice in the past two years, so it was fascinating to note the difference between AFROTC 19 year olds and the civilian high schoolers as they tackled the obstacles.

I learned a lesson from these kids as they tackled the obstacles. Our ROTC cadets rely on the analytical disciplines taught them by their respective degree fields, and the specific processes taught by our Air Force instructors and upperclassmen. A classic example of this nuanced thought process is the acronym used to describe a successful execution plan. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. We are taught to use each of these phases to ensure a complete, almost scientific approach to problem solving.

As I got ready to coach these high school students, I realized that they lacked this advanced training, and without the military discipline we have learned, I was unsure of how they would perform.

What I saw yesterday shocked me. Instead of seeing a group of amateurs trying to work together as a group, I saw a team that came together quickly to meet and even outperform our accomplishments on the course. They did lack the sophistication of military training, but what surprised me was that this tended to make their approach simpler and more matter-of-fact. They strategized more quickly, and started tackling the obstacles faster. They went on to finish obstacles that we got stuck or ran out of time on.

Two observations from this Friday morning at the obstacle course. First of all, trying to plan too far ahead can be a waste of time.  A leader should be able to make a decision and get the ball rolling if he or she has a general idea of how to attack a problem and specific details as to the beginning steps.  This concept is not promoting short-sightedness, but encouraging leadership to make a decision and get things started, even though every last theoretical problem may not have a complete resolution.  A good rule of thumb I have heard is that 70% of the information is enough to make an informed decision.

Secondly, don't let procedures and processes get in the way. I feel that acronyms like OODA are useful when learning how to make decisions, but are somewhat useless in actual decision making processes. They are useful to train the brain in proper methods of analyzing a situation, but when used as guides in a practical solution, they waste time and stunt the thinking process.

Sometimes we as military personnel, active or in training, think that we have to leave everything we have learned up to now in civilian life at the base checkpoint, and only use what the Department of Defense teaches us and think how they teach us to think. This could not be farther from the truth. Instead of brainwashing us, the Air Force teaches cadets how to use our personal life experiences and combine them with military discipline to make us even better leaders.

So next time I find myself in charge of a group of cadets, or evaluating other cadets in that position, instead of criticizing them for not robotically going through the phases of observation, orientation, decision, and action, I will encourage them to loosen up and think naturally. Instead of making their military training a maze through which they have to force themselves to come out the other side with a decision, I will encourage them to use their military training, alongside their personal life experiences, as a foundation on which they have freedom to make an intelligent decision.

AFROTC returns to train the new cadets at the obstacle course mid-September. Hopefully, this year we can combine the intuitiveness that I observed in the high school cross-country team with the traditional analytical skills of ROTC cadets to create top-notch, record-setting, obstacle-conquering super cadets!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A journey of 2450 miles ends on the last mile

So I am sitting in my townhouse in Lynchburg.  It has been four very long days of traveling from Phoenix, AZ to Virginia.

Why would one want to drive over 2000 miles to school?  I suppose for me it is such things as the freedom of the open road, the rythms of driving, and the music on the radio.  Spend an hour listening to classics such as the Eagles "Take it to the Limit", "Life is a Highway" by Rascall Flatts, or the old country song "Six Days on the Road", and you'll understand where I am coming from.  The Eagle's lyrics stand out specifically in my mind  "So put me on a highway, show me the signs, and take it to the limit ... one more time".

A video of highlights of the trip:

So much of life is really like the driving experience ... in retrospect it flies by just like the blades of grass on the side of the highway.

Thus I spent two days driving from Phoenix to Ellijay, GA, and today from GA to VA.

It has been a good time to think about the summer, and how fast it has gone.  This is a unique perspective for me, facing another challenging year at school.  I think it is good for all of us to have time to process and do nothing for a while.  For me it was about 35 hours of driving, and I can definitely say that I am better for it.

This year will be interesting for me as I am beginning my cadet officer career in AFROTC.  It will bring alot of leadership opportunities, and I look forward to them as much or more than the next fuel stop/stretch break on the road.

Just as road tripping is all about the next bend in the road, I look forward to what this year brings me.  I just hope I am not so focused on what is around the corner that I ignore the beauty on my present stretch of road!