Through It All

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Jakel
  • 31st Fighter Wing

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – For some, introduction to the military life is jarring, intimidating and foreign. For a military brat, like myself, the adjustment is minimal. The military has been at the center of my life for 18 out of 20 years, and those years shaped me into the Airman I am today.

My father joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2005. At only two years old, I was about to embark on a globe-spanning adventure.

My father’s first duty station was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Shortly after, he received orders to Iraq. For my mother and I, now five years old, the next 13 months were tough, but we had each other. We would call my father several times a week, and during this time my mom taught me to read so I could record myself reading my favorite books for my father. It was not easy, but my mother helped me persist and persevere.

In 2008, my father received orders to Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan. I started going to the local DODEA elementary school, which was full of military brats just like me. There I met some great friends and even more at our local church. However, this was the beginning of me learning just how hard the life of a military brat was.

While at a friend’s houses after school I saw these strangers come in with cardboard and tape. I asked my friend what was happening, and he said they were moving. A month later, he and his family drove to the airport and I have not seen him since, a new normal for me. Soon enough it was our turn to move again. While it was sad to say goodbye to my friends, deep down, I was still happy, because I still had my best friends, Mom and Dad, who would always be there for me.

During my junior year of high school, I applied to the United States Air Force Academy. Months of gasping for air and legs giving out led me to ace the physical fitness test. Countless weekends of studying ensured I did well on the SAT. Talking with my parents about handling myself professionally over an interview led to three letters of nominations. After 12 months of writing essays, getting medically cleared and sweaty workouts, I received a rejection letter in the spring of 2022. I was distraught, heartbroken and crushed. However, through many, many hours of talking and praying with my family, I chose to enlist into the U.S. Air Force and attempt to commission later.

I contacted my nearest recruiter and went through the enlistment process. I signed the forms, took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and was cleared through the Military Entrance Processing Station. I put Public Affairs Specialist as my number one job, and waited. Three months later, my recruiter called and said there was an opening for PA. I would ship out in two weeks and live my life highlighting the Air Force’s mission.

Leaving in two weeks felt so surreal. The price of joining the military finally hit; leaving my family. We had traveled the world for 18 years, lived in four countries and flew over 50,000 miles. We did that all together as a family, and I was about to leave that family in two weeks.

I was close to backing out. I was scared, nervous and sad. Our family was always there for each other, sending those videos to Dad in Iraq, my sister and brother coming home from the hospital and reading the rejection letter from USAFA. My family was everything. It is what made it so difficult to leave, yet also gave me the strength to do so. I knew my family would be there for me no matter what.

Through all my time in Basic Military Training, from the first mail call to graduation, my Military Training Instructor would hand me letters from them, sometimes even two. In technical school, I spent my first Christmas without them. My mother contacted a non-profit organization to send me a stocking filled with goodies and trinkets. Here at Aviano Air Base, I call my parents nearly every morning and they call me in the evenings. Even though I spent another holiday without them, I’m still happy because I know they are always thinking of me as I am of them.

I joined the military to follow in the legacy that my father started when he joined the military; to serve and protect my country. My family is part of that country, and I would do anything to keep them safe. Because of the support of my family, I am ready for whatever the world throws at me next.