Understanding Life in the Air Force
As you approach an Air Force base, the first thing you notice is the guards at the gates. Crisp uniforms, highly shined boots, armed with sidearm or M-16 rifle, the guard is polite but clearly in charge. Millions of dollars in equipment, highly sensitive information, and some of the most sophisticated weaponry are protected behind those gates. But beyond the gates also exists a society called by Wertsch (1991) "America's most invisible minority," which is a "separate and distinctly different subculture from civilian America" and "exercises such a powerful influence on its children that for the rest of our lives we continue to bear its stamp" (pp. xii-xiii). I was born into this invisible society and grew up in a setting where combat uniforms (called BDUs), marching soldiers, and readiness for war were as common and normal as cornfields to a farming family in Iowa. I spent most of my adult life (eighteen years) serving in the Air Force, raised a family within its bosom, and retired into the netherland of obsolescence. This chapter is my effort to paint the portrait of my society. It is part of a triad of pictures of life in the military (see Chapter 13 for life in the Army and Chapter 14 for life in the Navy). My goal is to help the reader naive to the military to bridge the chasm and better understand what my life was like (also refer to Chapter 18, which describes the military as an ethnicity).