Airmen ... get involved in your Air Force

(L-R) Airman 1st Class Aaron Oden, 92nd Air Refueling Wing administrative apprentice, Col. Brian McDaniel, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander, and Retired Lt. Col. George Swagel cut the cake during the Air Force Ball Sept. 18, 2015, at Spokane Wash. Oden was the youngest Airman at the event and Swagel was the oldest.  Fairchild Air Force Base members celebrated the 68th birthday of the U.S. Air Force.

(L-R) Airman 1st Class Aaron Oden, 92nd Air Refueling Wing administrative apprentice, Col. Brian McDaniel, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander, and Retired Lt. Col. George Swagel cut the cake during the Air Force Ball Sept. 18, 2015, at Spokane Wash. Oden was the youngest Airman at the event and Swagel was the oldest. Fairchild Air Force Base members celebrated the 68th birthday of the U.S. Air Force.

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Being a new Airman, at a new base, in a whole different part of the country can be challenging. Starting a military career, in-processing and attending the First Term Airman Center program can maximize stress levels. On top of having to establish one's self in the operational world, there are events to attend, volunteering to do and then maybe a social life, maybe.

When I arrived at my first duty station as a newly capable public affairs specialist, I was ready to jump in feet first to whatever my supervisor threw at me. Of course, there are things as a new Airman you just can't do, but when the Air Force Ball was thrown my way, pictures of fluffy gowns and lost glass slippers danced in my head.

After being brought back down to reality, knowing I would be in semi-formal attire, I didn't feel any less willing to go. Admittedly, I was attending for free (thanks to my supervisor) and I had nothing else to do that evening. However, I also knew I would be able to socialize with my co-workers in a less formal setting and, of course, enjoy amazing food and fun. So my mind was made up. I would definitely attend a party in celebration of the Air Force's birthday with my Air Force family, including all the Airmen I had met up to this point.

So, I began planning for the big night and sent out mass group text messages to my new friends asking what the plan would be for the ball. To my surprise, none of the Airmen I had befriended were attending.

They told me the Air Force ball was "lame," a "waste of time" and "stupid." I even got the rhetorical slap in the face, "Why in the world would I go to that?"

So I gave the most frustrated and sarcastic answer I could think of: "Well, I'm fresh out of tech school; I don't know why you'd attend the ball." I mean, besides the opportunity to network, meet chiefs and squadron commanders and, ultimately, get to hear Major General Thomas J. Sharpy, commander of the 18th Air Force, speak.

Though I'm not usually surprised by the lack of Airmen participation in base events, this negative reaction toward my invitation to attend the ball caught me off guard. As difficult as it is to get out and talk to people, this was probably one of the biggest networking opportunities an Airman of any rank could ask for.

Everyone has heard various excuses for why Airmen refuse to attend after-hours events. Many Airmen say they are too busy, or they want to enjoy their free time, or they really just dread being in blues. I usually shrug the excuses off, though I sometimes catch myself agreeing with a few of the nay-sayers. However, all the reasons I heard about not attending the ball were weak. Of all the events that Fairchild has put on, the majority, if not all, had purposes and aspects that would greatly benefit Airmen, especially young ones like me.

Throughout the year, events are put on by the wing, squadrons or small organizations on base, and they do it for us, the Airmen. Just like the first event I ever attended here, Summer Sports Day, the Air Force Ball was an event to not only take a step back and release some stress, but it allowed us to come together and get to know each other.

As a previous college student and sorority member I know the meaning of networking, and events such as the ball are where it happens for Airmen. Instead of hanging out watching Netflix and playing the latest first-person shooter game, I am able to attend events and begin setting myself up for success. Any Airman is able to have after-hours conversations with chiefs and commanders who have a wealth of knowledge and experience if they'd just take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Who wouldn't want to hear words of wisdom to better themselves and their career?

I walked in to the ballroom with few expectations, and walked out at the end of the night planning to drag everyone I know to the Air Force Ball next year. It was a little history lesson, a lot of good conversation, a bit of the "whip/nae-nae" and memories that will last a lifetime. It may have been my first Air Force Ball, but I can promise it won't be the last. I hope my experience will inspire a few Airmen to come see what they're missing.