“Aye, Aye Officer Frankki!” Dan called from the other end of the store, with a playful grin. His hand was placed on his forehead as if to block his eyes from the sun. He was trying to salute, and it looked completely wrong. It felt completely wrong. Dan was engaged to my cousin, and both were older than I was, but from the moment Dan and I met, our personalities clicked. He was innocently lighthearted and fun, always looking for the joy in life. We liked the same music and could talk forever without getting bored.
Dan’s salute was the first thing that had ever upset me about him. Why had it bugged me so? There was no malice behind his action. He was trying to acknowledge that I had enlisted in the Air Force and this was my life now. As he stood there in his jeans, t-shirt, and ballcap, and I in my brand new, freshly pressed service dress uniform, I was upset with him. He had come down with the rest of my family to see me graduate from basic training. They had come to celebrate my accomplishment: eight weeks of constant training and scrutiny. I had been drilled to know everything about the United States Air Force, from its organization and structure to its history. I was being celebrated for doing that, and they had come to join me in doing so.
I knew that Dan didn’t understand the importance of a salute, or my rank, or even that the Air Force would never say “aye, aye.” Why did I expect that he should? I was not going to lecture him about the salute being a serious thing and that he should know better. Unlike me, he had not spent his every waking moment of the last two months thinking about the Air Force, ensuring that everything he did was within regulation or suffering under the training instructors’ fierce correction. But I had. In his own silly way, Dan was acknowledging that. He was doing his best to show respect for the task I had taken on and what I had achieved. He saw that this experience had taken me away from me.
I never thought the Air Force was going to change me. Recruiters, military training instructors, and even the few military members I knew all said that I would leave basic training a different person. I had scoffed at the thought. The military was not going to change me, especially not basic training. But I had changed, and Dan had sensed it. I had not truly understood that I had changed until this moment. The Air Force would continue to change me throughout my military enlistment in ways that separated me from the ones that I loved. I knew then it would be up to me to keep the relationships that I wanted alive.
Frankki Allen joined the Air Force directly after high school and was stationed at Edwards AFB from 2012 to 2016, where she served her entire enlistment. She is currently a student at UC Davis and will receive her BS in animal science in the spring of 2020. She plans to attend veterinary school shortly after graduation in hopes of becoming a wildlife veterinarian.