By Master Sgt. Jenniffer Teets, 436th Comptroller Squadron
/ Published February 25, 2021
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Have you had a life altering moment? Not like dodging a car accident that made your heart skip a few beats. I’m talking about a moment where the fundamentals of who you are become questioned. The type when you look in the mirror and the reflection you see is not yours. If you have, I want you to think back to that specific moment in time when you decided not to let “it” define you. This very sentence reminds me of a revealing quote by Simon Sinek, “Most of us live our lives by accident-we live as it happens. Fulfillment comes when we live our lives on purpose.”
Prior to 2016, I spent most of my volunteer time with activities or organizations concentrated toward teaching and leading Airmen in any venue I could reach. That all changed when someone I trusted and thought had pure intentions reminded me how horrid and selfish some people fundamentally are. A series of events unfolded and I eventually found myself confronted with having to make some rather extreme decisions. The influencers of my life at that time assured me the court proceedings would not bring value to my healing process; I followed their advice. Unfortunately, I opted not to take part in the legal process until the formal discharge board proceedings against that Airman, which took place in 2018. During this time, I didn’t work on healing. Honestly, I was in self-preservation mode. I was fully focused on staying afloat at work and keeping my family from seeing my tears. Writing poems became my lone release for the pain and frustrations that engulfed me. But it wasn’t enough and I still felt empty and sought to fill the void. I didn’t know how, but I knew I needed to change the course I was on or “it” was going to redefine who I was in all areas of my life.
During my last assignment, the Airmen’s personal struggles in and out of work seemed to have a price; more often than not, things would trigger specific emotions or flashbacks to my earlier situation. I found myself in a vicious cycle of work, family day-to-day grind and drinking myself to sleep hoping to avoid the nightmares. With lots of reflection, I realized I longed to feel the joy I once sensed: mentoring and helping people. Additionally, I came to realize my dark poems were keeping me in a rotation of destructive emotions. Intentionally, I began spending more of my time leading outside the uniform. Knowing something had to change, I accepted the role as an event director for the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association (PAFRA). Additionally, I accepted the only enlisted leadership role appointed to a military member on behalf of Cheyenne Frontier Days. Both organizations tied directly into our family’s passion for horses and rodeo. Working with people outside of the military was that change of scenery that I needed to redirect my focus away from “it.”
These acts of being a servant leader offered me different opportunities so I could refocus my attention. It was more than something to consume time or stay busy; it was things I willingly chose to invest in. The act of feeling as if I had control and a voice again began to replace the shattered pieces of me that remained. One example was while representing PAFRA, we spent an afternoon with hospital-bound oncology patients during the finals of the world championship rodeo. Seeing those kids muster the courage to meet our rodeo horses in the parking lot was indescribable. It absorbed several hours of our day, but it created memories for children and families who had been limited to living in the oncology ward. It gave them a moment to be engaged, while at least temporarily not having to focus on all the negative that had become their “it.” This is exactly what focusing on the spirit of community was doing for me. The act of giving provided me outlets to concentrate on positive opportunities versus my trauma. It’s empowered me to write a success story for those who could use a lending hand. Serving others motivates me and preoccupies me from dwelling on various aspects of my past.
This is not meant to downgrade anyone’s life trials. Drinking my trauma away wasn’t the answer for me, nor was it productive in the healing process. I sadly did not wake up with that revelation; it took time and realizing that I needed to find something more. To this day, it takes frequent reminders that what happened did not need to define who I am, nor does it deserve that power. This message is intended for you to fill the “it” with your current or past situations. No matter how large or small those tribulations may be, only you can determine what happens next.