It takes little steps to reach the big goal

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Graduating Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) and starting work at a United States embassy in 2012 was anything but effortless, but shouldn't there have been a band, photographers, or at least someone very important escorting me to my own parking spot? OK, those things may have been more than I expected, and reality didn't quite work out the way I dreamed when I arrived at the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Achieving one of life's big goals was supposed to be more dignified. I mean I wanted to work in a U.S. Embassy since I joined the U.S. Air Force.

One might imagine my first day at a U.S. embassy would involve deep discussions of foreign policy and national strategy, with serious men in stylish business suits. In fact, I was taken behind four layers of secure rooms into a joint office with well dressed, but very quick witted, Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors who resembled the types I had met throughout my Air Force career.

Was there discussion of foreign policy goals and sweeping strategic aims? Not so much. Discussion centered around how best to survive driving in the haphazard downtown streets, as well as how to relate to the host nation partner, who spoke a language many of us could only barely understand and whose culture was very different from our own.

Thirty minutes after my arrival I was getting a tour of the embassy by an Air Force NCO, and it was a lot smaller than I previously thought (my office only had about 15 military members). I learned where the ambassador lived, and how the U.S. State Department enhanced host nation relations through many dinner parties and meetings, also called Key Leader Engagements. Everything new military liaison office seemed to have an acronym.

Despite the reality differing from my dreams, I had finally arrived as a U.S. embassy overseas, at the "tip of the spear". It was exhilarating experience and the culmination of a long-sought goal of being a Political Affairs Strategist (PAS), or Foreign Affairs Officer in U.S. Army terminology. This was my ultimate goal, but I broke it into many sub-goals, including getting assigned to the Pentagon, working as an executive officer for one of the Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force, getting selected into ACSC PAS program and transferring with my family overseas to a foreign nation to work in a U.S. embassy.

The reality is it took me more than six years to get to the U.S. embassy, including working my way through ACSC by correspondence, working twelve-hour days as an executive officer at the Pentagon, successfully completing all ACSC in-residence coursework, and finishing security assistance and basic language training. It took a very long time to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

One of the best memories of my life was to arrive at the U.S. embassy which rose above the other embassies in the desert and see the American flag fluttering in the rising morning sun. I realized a piece of home existed in this foreign land so different from our own. It was a beautiful site, one which reinforced my sense of purpose in life, and underscored the importance of everything I had done up until then. I knew I had accomplished one of my goals and I was serving my country in a very meaningful way.

So what is your goal? It might not be serving at a U.S. embassy, but most have an urge to do something special in their lives. Do you think it is too hard to attain, or may never happen? If looked at in total, it might well be impossible. But if you break it down into little chunks, you will be amazed at how easy, and how relatively quickly, you will meet your goal.

It is also easy to say it's too hard, and it will be a comforting, self-fulfilling prophecy. Only years later will you realize what a precious opportunity you had with such fleeting time, but allowed life to pass you by.

Make the most out of short time at Grand Forks. Set a goal. Get started today.

Oh, and my next goal? I want to be out of the diaper-changing business in my house by the time I'm 50, but then again, that's another goal. One diaper at a time.