5 Lessons I Learned from a USAF Graduation

Mar 23, 2016

He looked amazing in his dress blues, I can tell you that.

Pressed and polished in both appearance and character, he stood far taller than his six-foot-two frame. In eight weeks’ time, he’d changed. We’d sent a boy off to Basic Military Training. But the person we saw at graduation two months later was very much a man.


Oh, my heart. 

Serving his country has long been his dream, since middle school at least. We’ve talked about it at breakfast, over dinner and in countless conversations in between. Still, when the day came to ship our son off to the USAF, the unknown left this mama with no small amount of fear and trembling.

Still, as I sat in the outdoor bleacher seats for his graduation two months later, listening to the cadence of the drum and bugle corps and watching the young men and women parade by in marching perfection, I realized our son was exactly where he needed to be. I needn’t be afraid. Life is a faithful teacher, and sometimes “hard life” most of all. And from our seats in his cheering section, we learned a few lessons, too.

Lesson #1: A life without discipline will always be limited. 

We often resent rules and discipline as restrictive. We want to be free to do and say what we want, when we want. And yet the opposite of our assumptions is actually true. It is the life without discipline that lacks the structural support to soar. Watching 700+ disciplined airmen work together was an impressive sight. They didn’t appear limited. They looked strong, powerful, able to accomplish anything. It reminded me of my years spent learning to play the piano: once you respect the rules, you can play any kind of music, even write your own. Discipline isn’t an enemy; it’s the necessary foundation to truly fly.

Lesson #2: Respect is the access point for accomplishing your agenda.

From the moment our son stepped off the transport bus and onto base, he learned respect. Respect for authority. Respect for boundaries. Respect for his flight and respect for himself. The result? Hundreds of friends and family mirrored that respect from their graduation bleacher seats. What I wouldn’t give to have learned this lesson years ago! Too many times, in my youthful desperation to be heard or make my position known, I compromised respect in my passion to accomplish my agenda. But rather than building bridges, I burned a few. If you want to lead, to influence everyone from your spouse to your community to your colleagues, don’t cheat respect. Leadership begins there.

Lesson #3: Inviting accountability multiplies your ability.

“Accountability” is often treated like a bad word. We resist it, resent it, and do whatever we can to avoid it. And yet, ever since graduation, my son can’t stop talking about the importance of accountability. He asks for it in his spiritual life, his academic life and even his exercise routine. He knows it’s the secret to becoming better, stronger, and able to exceed any limits. If you feel plateaued and frustrated, perhaps accountability is the key to taking the next big step forward.

Lesson #4: Self-denial sharpens your focus.

For eight weeks, our son went without television, cell phone, movies, video games, Internet, email, social media or access to current events {NOT easy. But, yes, it’s possible}. Instead, his sole focus was learning what it means to be an airman. In the process, he grew in his understanding of himself, he dove deeper into his relationship with God, and he learned volumes about leadership, service, teamwork and personal integrity. Imagine what could be possible if you and I intentionally blocked out distractions for a time and allowed self-denial to sharpen our focus?

Lesson #5: Struggle produces the most meaningful rewards.

If you asked our son to describe his weeks at BMT, he’d use words like “excruciating,” “tough,” “impossible” and “painful.” And yet, two days ago I asked him if he missed it. His response? “It’s going to sound weird, but yes. I miss it a lot. I’ll never forget those weeks, or the guys I met there.” The hardest eight weeks of his life have become some of the most meaningful weeks of his life. As much as we wish the pain away, nothing compares with the rewards it delivers. As John Piper says, “Don’t begrudge the school of suffering.” Let the pain be the powerful teacher it’s meant to be.

Which of these lessons means the most to you? Why? 


  1. David Mike

    Great post! What skill is he learning next?

  2. Alex Colon

    Hey Michele,
    Great post! I can’t say that one means more than the others. They’re all vitally important to our personal, relational, financial, and spiritual lives.

    I’d say that accountability and self-denial are probably the two most difficult to practice, due to our Selfish society today. We are already selfish and self-sufficient by nature and denying self is a prerequisite to accountability. In other words, I must realize that I am not enough or don’t have 100% of the focus, strength, character, etc., to accomplish what’s at hand, and thus accountability is necessary.

    Asking for help, while denying our selfishness or self-centeredness, can take us very far in life.

    Thanks for your post. Definitely a keeper for future reference. Maybe even a small group study/Bible study.

  3. Victoria Mininger

    I think it would be #5 for me. While I would not choose to go through the struggle again necessarily, I see where it has refined my heart and character. It has also provided clearer direction and clarity as I pursue the dreams and desires God has placed on my heart. Indeed, pain is a powerful teacher as long as we are willing to learn in the process.
    Thank you Michele for such good and challenges thoughts today.

  4. Ray

    First, please thank your son for his service. Second, thank you for raising a great young man! I so appreciate your bringing out the virtues of military service. It is a blessing to read such an inspiring piece of writing.
    Thank you,

  5. Loretta Heiser

    What a great job you and your husband have done to raise such a son. Bravo……especially while we go through the terrible sight of Brussels. Hugsand prayers for all our service men. Loretta

  6. Chery Gegelman

    Great post Michele! Please thank him for his service to us!

    As you spoke of the rules and discipline in #1 – I immediately thought about current expat experience overseas. We live in a place where leadership is not trusted, where FAKE rules are made so that organizations will appear to be compliant with local laws. While other rules are real and made with the expectation that you follow them.

    Accountability is one extreme or the other with not much in between: There is none OR limbs and lives are at risk. And people here only hope that they have it figured out.

    As some of my expat neighbors have traveled to the U.S. they have commented about how we respect the rules and how “nice” we are to each other especially as we drive and as we stand in lines. The big lesson for me has been that if you trust the system to work for you – it is much more natural to learn respect and discipline.

  7. Effie Darlene Barba

    Michelle as I read your post about your son; I thought you would enjoy this poem. I wrote it when my son graduated from the police academy to step into the life of a deputy sheriff.

    To My Son
    I trembled once so long ago
    Upon your first birthday
    This world so filled with evil foe
    Could I protect your way?

    I prayed a little whispered prayer
    That God would keep you safe
    Protect you from each of life’s snares
    Give strength to face life’s chafe

    I see you now, this man you are
    Such honor, truth and grace
    Your dreams sometimes so distant far
    With strength each day you face

    I’ve watched you grow into this prince
    So filled with honor, truth
    So brave as ne’er at danger wince
    Yet gentle, wise beyond your youth

    I see you stand before me now
    And know what God has done
    His wisdom, strength He did endow
    For He needed you my son

    To be the one, His warrior here
    To go into the street
    And facing evil’s dreadful tear
    With justice on your feet

    I tremble now as I let go
    Upon this special day
    This world so filled with evil foe
    I can’t protect your way

    And yet, I know that God above
    Will always be your guide
    It is His mercy, grace and love
    That holds you at His side

    Love, Mom

    • Laura Naiser

      Effie – That is a beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing that!

      Michele – Beautiful post! I echo all the others who want to thank your son for his service. Also, thank you for teaching and modeling those lessons to your son through your own life. I have a feeling that his experience in the Air Force training merely reinforced those lessons he has seen you live out before his eyes!

      It is so wonderful to see you smiling and happy with your beautiful family! You’ve been through so much and are such an inspiration with your honesty and vulnerability. After praying for you through the past year, it is just so exciting to see that picture and how happy you were in it!

  8. Suzanne

    This is a great article! Thank you!


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