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Going out on a limb

(Left) Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason, a public affairs specialist with the 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office and native Oklahoman, poses for a Christmas snapshot with her sister Amy in 1984. (Right) Gleason waits on a bus before being deployed to Southwest Asia in 2005 during Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

(Left) Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason, a public affairs specialist with the 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office and native Oklahoman, poses for a Christmas snapshot with her sister Amy in 1984. (Right) Gleason waits on a bus before being deployed to Southwest Asia in 2005 during Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- It has been said that in order to succeed we must go out on a limb, because that's where the fruit is. 

As a little girl, I didn't take chances. I was terrified of climbing trees. My feet were firmly planted on the ground, while my neighborhood friends pretended to be cats, bounding from branch to branch. I secretly wished my Dad would weld the training wheels to my bike permanently so I would never scrape my knees, but my sister forced me to liberate my bike of its four wheels because she was embarrassed to ride alongside an 8-year old that couldn't ride a bike properly. I always played it safe.

I was raised in Midwest City, Okla., a town built around an Air Force base, right in the middle of the United States. My grandmother and my parents all retired from the base as civilians with a combined 92 years of federal service between them. Naturally, my safe plan had always been to attend college and then apply for job on base, or get an education degree and teach like many of my friends planned to do. After I enrolled in college, I quickly realized I wanted a full-time job, and once I decided being a bank teller wasn't all I dreamed it would be, I realized I had to stray from my original plan.

Finally, at age 20, I had an epiphany. I wanted to challenge myself and do something meaningful and different--something risky. I wanted to see what else was waiting for me outside of my home state. I wanted to enlist in the Air Force. My mom was concerned for my mental health because she, of course, raised the little girl who despised getting dirty. My dad, a U.S. Marine, said I was making the right choice.

I was single with no kids and I was ready to begin my journey. I made an appointment with a recruiter, and a few months later I boarded a plane bound for Texas to begin basic military training and change the course of my life forever.

Fast forward 12 years as an Airman, and I have lived on three continents and served as a trainee, a dental laboratory technician, a deployer, a letter of counseling recipient, a photojournalist, a master of ceremonies, a supervisor, a mentor, a snow shoveler, a security forces augmentee, a volunteer, a top graduate, a mother, a wife and a wingman.

The Air Force has given me incredible opportunities to grow as a person and expand my horizons, opportunities that I would have completely missed out on by staying in my safety zone. When I made mistakes, countless times, I received counseling and corrective action. Thanks to my mentors and supervisors, I also made an impact: I performed my duties to the best of my abilities and set an example for my two young daughters about how to adapt, overcome, and succeed.

As most other service members, I have met an interesting array of people while serving: Airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines, coast guardsmen and civilians. We have shared laughs, tears, and the long lines for face painting during mandatory-fun celebrations. It hasn't all been good, and what wasn't good just served to teach us how to accept our shortcomings and hopefully grow from our mistakes.

Some relationships flourish, and some dry up like the punch bowl at the squadron holiday potluck. Now I have friends that I miss all over the world, as well as folks whose names I struggle to recall. I went out on a limb and I collected the fruit. I learned how to work hard, how to obey orders, how to be a leader, but most importantly: I learned how to be me.