Every job should be treated like a career

  • Published
  • By Capt. Heidi McMinn
  • 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron blood services chief
Imagine you were a part of a deploying unit and spent six months to a year in a combat zone. Then, your unit commander wrote an account of the experiences of your unit to chronicle the trials and accomplishments of your deployment. You bought this book and, as you are read the author's note, you came across this statement: "I have no desire to expose any soldiers who did not live up to the standard, so I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of some soldiers."

I found this statement at the beginning of a book called "Outlaw Platoon," by Army Lt. Sean Parnell. When I came across it, the sentence gave me pause. And as the story unfolded of the 10th Mountain Division's experiences in the mountains of Afghanistan, I felt haunted by this statement. There were 40 men in this 3rd Brigade infantry platoon who spent 16 months of their lives fighting together for each other -- some lost their lives. I couldn't help but think how devastating it would be to read an account of my team's combat experiences and realize that my name was changed because I didn't measure up. What makes somebody not measure

When I joined the Air Force 12 years ago, I had no illusions of spending 20 years climbing through the enlisted ranks. I wanted a college degree, medical experience and a host of other things. The Air Force was probably not going to be a career for me -- perhaps just a job.

In the last 12 years, I have made decisions that directly contrasted with my original life plans. I said I would not stay in the Air Force, yet here I am. I said more than once, "I will never be a lab officer," yet, here I am. I actually sort of like it. When my mentor asked which Air Force Institute of Technology program I wanted to apply for, my exact words were, "Anything but the Blood Banking Fellowship."

Why do I bring this up?

If I hadn't come into the Air Force and treated it like a career, even though to me it was only a job, the commissioning door would not have opened up for me. I didn't need my medical laboratory technologist when I got out of phase II, but I took the test, just in case. I ended up working as an MLT while I finished my degree and didn't have to scramble when it came time to get a job. I wanted to separate when my enlistment was up, but I studied for staff sergeant anyway. When I asked for letters of recommendation for my commissioning package, people were happy to write them because while I was an Airman, I treated it as my career.

As we can all attest to, we make plans but then life happens and plans change. There are very few things both in and outside the military truly within our control.

I have spoken with the recent medical laboratory phase II graduates about owning their situation and about always doing the right thing, because the minute you don't, you allow other people to make your decisions. I know they all have different plans for their careers and lives but the one common theme they all share is that they are driven to excel. I challenged them to take that drive and embrace any situation in which they may be placed.

I told them to treat their experience as Air Force medical laboratory technicians as a career and not just a job. "Your work impacts more people than you can ever imagine." Unfortunately, we usually only learn how great an impact we have on people when we do something wrong. But every day they turn out a potassium result, blood type or culture result, they impact people's lives. Not just the individual who receives that result, but their family members and friends as well. I stressed they treat this with the seriousness it deserves and be the best lab technician they can possibly be and they will be met with continued success.

At the end of your career, whether it's four years or spans a couple decades, if you treat your job as your career -- with ownership, pride and excitement -- your unit commander won't feel the need to protect your name because you didn't measure up but will instead proudly use your name to tell the account of what happened on their deployment or during the countless missions of which you will have an opportunity to be a part.