What do you think of when you think of the Air Force? Guns? Shooting? Maybe even a little imperialism? Many of these expectations about the Air Force, and overall military can be argued to be true — whether or not the United States is using bases around the globe for protection for itself and its allies or for its own personal imperialism is still heavily debated today. However, the Air Force provides so much more than what meets the eye, so much more than what people simply bother to find out. Educational benefits, medical benefits, job security, and much more are not only life-saving, but also give so many people a purpose in life, one that does not involve killing or shooting, or occupying other nations, but a purpose that revolves around helping people, around helping themselves and their families. I’ll be blunt and to the point; I’m not here to convince you like the military or the Air Force but to shed light on what I think is a stigmatized part of society that needs to be represented and expressed.
First, I think it’d be important to expose people to the very real and factual benefits that you receive from being part of the Air Force which can also be found in the rest of the military. When you enlist in the Air Force, you are guaranteed a job. With this comes a stable income, more affordable housing, as well as general housing and food benefits; in the Air Force, you will never be jobless, homeless, or go hungry. In addition, there are educational benefits. Every year that you are enlisted, $4500 in tuition assistance is paid directly to the institution for tuition, not directly to you or the service member. Arguably the best benefits of the Air Force are also the incredible healthcare benefits that are received. Being in the U.S., a hospital trip is often a dreaded experience, considering how much money you often have to pay for even the simplest of procedures. However, the Air Force covers almost all healthcare costs — including pregnancies, which can cost thousands of dollars. Furthermore, these benefits can be extended to your spouse and children. Something that also attracts the attention of people, especially people who like competition, is the ranking and award system. In the Air Force, you are constantly climbing a ladder, and for each rank, you are in, leadership gives out quarterly awards to each member of a “squadron.” These awards, often tokens or titles, act not only as motivation to be your best self and continue to improve but also act as friendly competition which tightens the bond between you and your fellow servicemen.
Enter Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Tori Glover: “[Our] number one goal is to educate and change lives, whether people join us or not.” Glover is a Staff Sergeant in Boston, whose priority as an active duty member of the military is to enlist people in the Air Force, while simultaneously educating and informing others of what the military has to offer. Having been in the Air Force for eight years. Glover has had almost nothing but good things to say about what the Air Force has done for her, her life, and her family. Inspired by her brother and sister-in-law, who both recommended her to the Air Force, Glover wanted to serve just like her family has and also wanted the financial and economic benefits that the military had to offer.
In addition to the previously mentioned benefits, she finds that the uniform that comes with serving has made her much more respected in life, by friends, family, and strangers alike, and that the positive interactions with people far outweigh negative interactions. In tangent with this, when I asked her if she thought there were any negative stigmas in society revolving around the Air Force and the military as a whole, she said that there is a common stigma. “It is viewed as a fallback plan[for many].” To add to this, there is a generally negative view of the military. Many people often consider the military to be nothing but murder, shooting, guns, and a fallback plan in case everything else goes wrong. This coupled with a common trend that Glover touched on is that not everyone is qualified for an Air Force/military position, with a negative view sometimes arising from envy of others being qualified while they are not. These accumulate in general negativity against the Air Force despite the respect given to those in uniform.
These stigmas and views are not without reason, however, and there is a great deal of weight behind the negative opinions that people have about the Air Force. In addition to the requirements for joining often being tough and demanding, there is also the high likelihood of being stationed away from your family and loved ones for many years at a time. What comes with going overseas as well as the risk of being harmed or injured, especially in areas of conflict and political tension, such as Ukraine. There is also a massive risk for in a male-dominated sector, women are at a much higher risk of being sexually abused and assaulted. While the Air Force disciplines and deals with those who commit these heinous acts, it is still a traumatizing event that can occur.
All of this is without mentioning the long-debated and heated topic of American imperialism, or lack thereof. Having hundreds of bases in hundreds of countries, there are two general viewpoints on this issue — The United States is using these bases to enforce its will on other countries and have a political and geographical influence on them for its own imperialistic gain, or that the United States is genuinely using these bases in cooperation with the countries they are located in to try and defend itself and its allies.
However, once again in the words of Glover, “[Our] number one goal is to educate and change lives, whether people join us or not.” The Air Force, and everything about it, is not about killing people, violence and destruction, but more often than not is about contributing to society and making yourself and your family successful. Whether it be growing STEM, saving the lives of others, or taking advantage of the programs to get yourself into college and become successful, there is more to the Air Force than meets the eye, and often there is nothing to be afraid of. This couples into a great societal stigma that should be eradicated in the country; the military will not go anywhere, whether we like it or not, and continuing to demonize it, and glorify it, in ways that don’t apply to it or the members of it, only serve to weigh others down. Like anything else, a negative stigma and stereotype will do no good, but once again, like any other thing, glorifying it to no end will only bring great destruction. But what you should take away is that they’re people, just like you and me.