“The Next Connection” by Julian Piña

After coming off a flight from Germany to Baltimore, I walked toward my next connection to Los Angeles, feeling that my Air Force career was over.  All I wanted was to get home and be reunited with my family. As I waited, I needed to charge my iPod at the charging station nearby. As I waited for my iPod to charge, a stranger asked if she could charge her phone here. All I did was nod and point to confirm that there was a free outlet.

She was quick to notice I was in the military, and we started to talk. The conversation was comfortable and easy, and at one point, she asked, “Can you watch my stuff?” Before she headed to the restroom, she added, “Please don’t steal anything.” She meant it as a joke, but it was also a fair assessment since we had just met, and she had no reason to trust me. As she returned, I joked that her stuff was all there, and she laughed. We continued our conversation. I spoke in depth about my time in the Air Force, and she openly talked about her time in Army basic training, before she was medically discharged.

We lost track of time, and the people around us disappeared. It felt like we were the only ones in the airport.  We discovered that we were on the same flight. I boarded first sitting next to the window, and she took the empty seat next to me. She asked if she could sit next to the window, and I gladly gave up the seat.

We continued speaking throughout the flight and grew relaxed enough to make playful jokes with one another. I felt a comfort that seemed unreal, because I didn’t think I deserved it.   I had a great military life. I had grown into a workaholic with a passion to accomplish anything. However, I could not say the same for the life I led when I took off my uniform. I had failed in my romantic relationships, which in turn had impacted my relations with friends, creating a domino effect of betrayals and mistakes.  I had no more than two dollars to my name, and I had become a hollow shell.

As we chatted about Nintendo, classic cartoons, and types of beer, I began to feel better about myself.  She was an attractive woman, but I did not need to ask her out. The connection we were making through our conversation was what I really needed.

The plane landed, and we walked together to baggage claim. When we separated, the feeling in the air was, “Take care of yourself.” I walked to my family, who hugged me and let me know how much they missed me, and I broke down in tears. I knew that I was home.

Julian Piña is an Air Force veteran who served eight years active duty. He was stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where he was assigned to 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS) and Ramstein Air Base, Germany. He was assigned to 86th LRS and United States Air Force Europe (USAFE) A3, specifically in Joint Operational Planning and Execution System (JOPES). After this, he separated at Staff Sergeant and returned home to Oxnard, CA, and he is currently in the process of transferring to UCSB to study Economics and Accounting, having just completed his Associate’s degree in Business Administration.