By Capt. Freddie Stephens
Air University Officer Training School
This is my Officer Training School story.
My journey to the United States Air Force actually began when I was in college. No, I did not participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Oklahoma. Instead, I was a “normal” student recruited by OU’s College of Engineering.
I became a non-scholarship athlete my freshman year. I joined the men’s cross country and track and field teams, on which I competed for three years. Also, I joined the National Society of Black Engineers during my freshman year. I was attracted by NSBE’s mission statement: “To increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.” Three things I took away from that mission statement were responsibility, excellence and service to others. That was the theme by which I chose to live.
Following graduation, I was hired by a contracted drilling company as an operations drilling engineer. This was an awesome job. I drove a company car, had an expense account and flew on the company’s private jet. Just over a year out of college, I was offered stock options and made nearly six figures annually in salary and bonuses. I thought I had everything someone could possibly want. This was my idea of success.
However, deep inside, I felt that something was missing. I thought about NSBE’s mission statement. I no longer felt that I was positively impacting the community.
Everything seemed to be about me. Then, I thought about my father who served 21 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a senior noncommissioned officer. He enlisted right after high school. I thought about how my annual salary was more money than he had ever made in one year. However, I felt like he did something worthwhile with his life. He did something so admirable and honorable that even to this day there is nobody in the world that I respect more than my dad. The sacrifices he made for his family and this nation are something that will never be erased from my memory. So I asked myself one question as I looked in a mirror, “How do you want to be remembered?”
I decided to leave the oil fields behind. I decided that I wanted to do more than just positively impact the community. I wanted to do something that positively impacted the world. It took me awhile to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. Until one day, I researched the United States Air Force. I read about the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do. Those core values sounded a lot like the NSBE mission statement.
I applied to OTS in December 2008. I was notified in March 2009 that I was selected by the board. I arrived at OTS on Sept. 15, 2009, and earned my commission on Dec. 17, 2009.
My first duty station was Joint-Base Charleston, S.C., where I truly began to develop my skills as both an officer and an engineer. I was afforded an opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan as a second lieutenant. I seized the moment. I saw firsthand exactly how the Air Force positively impacts the world. Less than two years removed from OTS, my career came full circle as I returned to OTS as a flight commander and instructor with only one goal in mind: I wanted to impact other people’s lives the way my flight commander had impacted mine.
I have proudly commissioned or graduated 100 officers in the Air Force. I have read and heard the stories of those 100 men and women. I am excited by the caliber of American citizens that OTS attracts. I applied specifically to the Air Force because I firmly believe in the core values. Since my first day as an officer trainee, I have dedicated my life to serving the United States of America. I am proud to know that my OTS story is only one of thousands of OTS stories by people who share the same ideals, beliefs and dedication.