Career Focus: Don’t make the wrong decision

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joseph Mulcahy
  • Career Assistance Advisor
When I volunteered to serve as my squadron's additional duty first sergeant, I was very motivated to learn about this prestigious and demanding position. I knew it was going to be tough. I knew it would expand my view of the Air Force and enable me to help people. I felt prepared to handle anything - after all, I had gained a lot of knowledge and experience dealing with people as an aircraft maintenance supervisor and career assistance advisor. I didn't expect many surprises - I was mistaken.

I would be willing to bet that every first sergeant could write a novel about the good and bad aspects of human behavior. We share many good times with our units. We cheer when our folks get promoted, win awards, do great things or fulfill their potential. We get disappointed or frustrated each time Airmen fall from the straight and narrow, violate standards, hurt themselves or others, and damage our unit's mission.

Try as we may, we cannot help or guide all Airmen. We sometimes must face the harsh reality that some folks are not cut out for military life. So what do we do as first sergeants and supervisors when we discover that our people do not, will not or cannot adhere to standards? We correct them and when necessary counsel them on the various ways Airmen can be separated.

There are many ways that Airmen can be separated from the Air Force. The best way is for each Airman to faithfully and honorably fulfill their four- or six-year term of enlistment. Faithful service normally leads to an honorable discharge at separation. This type of discharge ensures that Airmen will be entitled to veterans benefits like the G.I. Bill. It also helps them attain civilian employment. It's the best way to depart the Air Force.

Airmen may also be separated voluntarily or involuntarily prior to their normally established date of separation. Reasons for separation can include joining the Air Force Reserve through the Palace Chase program, selection to a commissioning program, pursuing education or employment, medical reasons, pregnancy, conscientious objection, hardship and other miscellaneous reasons.

The worst way to leave the Air Force is to be involuntarily separated for cause or disciplinary reasons. Some folks think that if they purposely violate standards or get into other types of trouble their commanders will eventually recommend a discharge. It sounds ridiculous, but I have actually known Airmen who have purposely done bad things to get out. They learned, often painfully, that this was the wrong decision. Why?

Disciplinary separations are rarely quick, may involve court-martial convictions and can damage a person's future. It's very difficult to recover from discharges that are less or other than honorable. It can cause the loss of veteran benefits, especially if the member serves less than two years. It can hinder future employment opportunities. Purposely getting into trouble to terminate your service early is stupid and costly.

Unfortunately, I continue to meet people who don't think so. They continue to screw up hoping they will be separated. Eventually they may get their wish, but it will come with a heavy price. It is far better to fulfill your enlistment commitment, adhere to standards and leave the Air Force honorably.

If you would like more information about early separations, consult Air Force Instruction, or talk to the separations section at the military personnel flight or your first sergeant. You can also contact me at 846-6636 or e-mail me at
See you in the wings!