By 1st Lt Tori Hight
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
With every birthday that passes, I stop to think about the things I have done in my life. Among the most significant, I have been given the responsibility of shaping the lives and futures of young Airmen placed in my charge.
Looking back on life, no matter your age, you always linger on the things that you haven’t done yet. Some people might call that feeling regret, or consider those things missed opportunities, but I don’t really see it that way.
Six years ago, I was in my senior year of high school filling out college applications. I was pre-accepted to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. While messing around on the Internet one afternoon, I came across a website for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
After a little research, I realized the deadline for applying to my congressman for a nomination to the upcoming class was that same day. I hastily put my application together, and with a little help from the local office store, faxed my materials to be reviewed.
While the rest of the process is a blur, I’ll never forget the feelings I had stepping off the bus at USAFA to the yells and screams of upperclassmen as I scurried to the footsteps at the base of the Core Values Ramp.
The Academy would prove to be the best years of my life so far and some of the most difficult. Instead of wearing normal clothes to school, we wore uniforms every day and marched to lunch three times a week. There was no such thing as skipping class or briefings–attendance to most events was mandatory. We had unique traditions like spirit cheese, taking the hill and a special way to open a jar of peanut butter. I was able to fly an airplane solo, while other classmates experienced skydiving or joined the honor guard. Even with all the unique opportunities, I’m sure everyone there at some point wondered what life would have been like at a “normal” school.
I was recently offered the opportunity to visit Texas A&M and speak to the Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets about my job in the military for their annual career day.
I drove onto the campus and right into the main parking garage, marveling the entire way at the vastness of the school and its lack of fences and guarded entry gates. Our group walked right into a building and among the students, making our way to the cadet corps area. It was surreal to take in the sights and sounds of students around us strolling to class in normal clothes, fast food lunches in hand.
The cadet area of the campus was a more familiar environment. Freshmen were hastily making their way around the quad, greeting upperclassmen and offering our group salutes and a big “howdy!” Upperclassmen quickly corrected those who were unfortunate enough not to notice our group pass by.
We toured the dormitories and watched the freshmen stand at attention, calling minutes until the evening events and reciting memorized knowledge about the military.
Speaking with the cadets was a wonderful experience. They had numerous questions about the Air Force and my career field, and they listened with enthusiasm. I remember having similar questions about the military before I joined, and it felt so strange to be on the other side of the experience. During the last session, several cadets returned to our area for further discussion. It warmed my heart to see how sincere they were about devoting their lives to the military. The visit wrapped up with an evening retreat ceremony and the cadets scrambling to dinner—another experience altogether.
As we drove away from the campus, I couldn’t help but consider: what would my life be like had I attended a “normal” school?
The answer is that it would be…different. I made some of the best friends I will ever have during my time at the Academy. I was assigned to an amazing base after graduation. The people there helped mentor me and teach me things about my job that technical school didn’t cover. I even met my husband at that base.
It can sound so cliché, but my point is that it all came together the way it needed to. Had I not gone to USAFA, I might not have gone to my first base. If I hadn’t been stationed there, I would not be the same person able to offer the same mentorship and wisdom to my Airmen and to those cadets.
So the next time you catch yourself wondering how things could have been different—don’t look back with regret. Every moment, every experience and every person you meet along the way helps shape you into exactly the person you are meant to be. That’s exactly what I told the cadets. The best advice I could share: make the most of the opportunities that come along.
PHOTO TOP: The Texas A&M Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, Detachment 805, perform retreat April 9 at Texas A&M University. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Tori Hight)
PHOTO BOTTOM: The Texas A&M Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, Detachment 805, listen to an officer professional development presentation April 9 at Texas A&M University. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Tori Hight)