Faces of Bagram feature image

We are all pieces of the puzzle

By Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
445th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Although I grew up near a military base, the thought of joining the military never crossed my mind. While I was in high school, my cousin joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and when he returned home from boot camp it seemed as if a new person stood before me. He was my height, but seemed to walk taller and was proud in his Marine Corps dress blues. I was fascinated by his stories of traveling and, most importantly, the fact that he was part of something bigger than himself.

He noticed my excitement and begged me to join the Marines. Despite his motivating stories, I didn’t decide to join the military until three years later after college. College was great; I made new friends, played basketball and learned a lot of new things. But, I had a constant feeling that I wasn’t doing enough to contribute to society or helping those in need. I kept thinking about my cousin’s stories and sense of pride and as unoriginal as it sounds, it is one of the main reasons why I decided to follow in his footsteps and finally join the Air Force.

Faces of Bagram collage
This photo collage is made up of Airmen currently deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Each Airman must understand how their work and dedication to the Air Force core values helps the service accomplish its overall mission.  (U.S. photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Released)

After seven years in the Air Force, I now have my own stories and experiences to share. I have flown on Navy aircraft, been on a ship out at sea, met the president, shaken hands with comedians and faced some of my many fears. All these opportunities have allowed me to meet many great people who have accomplished remarkable things for the Air Force. It makes me proud to be one of many non-commissioned officers who serve in the world’s greatest Air Force.

While the Air Force has given me opportunities to grow in all aspects of my life, there are times when I question how my efforts as a photojournalist contribute to the mission’s success.

I don’t think I am the only person who has ever questioned their role in the military. At one point or another, the thought seems to cross many Airmen’s minds. As a new Airman and photographer, I was taught to do my job 100 percent every day, but I was never told about the significance of my contributions. So, the new Airmen in my office and I walked around naively thinking that all we did for the Air Force was take “cool” photos for people to see.

As my military career progressed, so did my understanding of the integral role everyone has for accomplishing the mission. Because I have the opportunity to provide imagery and written stories for key audiences, I am able to see how every Airmen makes the Air Force work. I am able to show how the Airmen on the flightline can prepare a jet for take-off in a matter of minutes, how a security forces member can respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice or how a young medical specialist helps provide health care for service members.

I communicate how hard Airmen work to complete their daily missions set forth by leadership. Although I have the opportunity to showcase the mission, I still have days when the everyday stuff seems trivial and dull, when I question how my work adds to the Air Force’s no-fail mission.

Years later, I still hear my peers and Airmen discuss how they feel the things they do in their career fields are pointless and meaningless. It’s easy to overlook the importance of our daily jobs, and that we are all a small piece of the big puzzle. And, as cliché as it sounds, no matter how big or small our efforts are, we are the people who make the U.S. Air Force. The things we are asked to do, like our daily routine tasks, are the necessary little details that make up the big picture.

People outside the military rarely distinguish us by our particular military jobs. They see Airmen as people who are part of a team that helps protect and fights for our country. So, why do some Airmen think that their daily duties do not contribute to or impact the Air Force mission? Sometimes we get shortsighted and fail to see the impacts we make.

While it’s simple to forget the significance of our contributions and responsibilities, we must seek that reinforcement not only for ourselves, but for the Airmen we supervise. The Airmen who look to me for positivity and encouragement, the ones I write about and take photos of remind me that what I do for the Air Force matters.

The fact of the matter is that we all contribute to the fight. If our roles were unnecessary then our jobs would not exist. Without any of us, the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, our services would not be what they are today.

I don’t have any fancy, wise words to tell you how important you and your skills are to the Air Force. But, what I can say is that although we all have our own reasons as to why we joined the military, we must never forget what we do day-in and day-out makes the Air Force function. We are all fundamental to the mission, so you matter. Never forget how you fit into the Air Force puzzle!