Every Airman has a story, and here's mine

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tom Brading
  • 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

My name is Senior Airman Tom Brading, and like many Reservist, I was an active duty before joining. 

Before that... I was born, and spent the better part of my life in small Indiana town. To me, the town of North Vernon, will always have an endearing charm. I grew up there, my family is there, I worked my first job there, you get the idea. North Vernon is also known as the small town, outside of the small town that John Mellencamp sang about in the song, “Small Town”. Needless to say, it's not very big. 

Growing up, my family wasn’t rich. Not exactly poor, either, but what we had was enough for us. The way I see it, we all enter this life through birth and we leave through death. I was content, but I hoped for more. So, I waited for an opportunity. 

For a quarter of a century, I didn’t travel much. I tried driving to Canada once, but locked the keys in the car at the gas station somewhere in Indianapolis. Even then, I doubt my 1997 Grand Am would’ve made it. I never owned a passport until after joining the Air Force when I was 25. I was active duty for four years and the mission didn't require me to travel at all. So, again, I waited for an opportunity. 

Humility on the shoulders of a simple man is worth more than any gold worn by a king. Point being, growing up I couldn’t afford exciting getaways to around the world. Today I'm a single dad, so the idea of traveling to another country just to do it has become so distant it may as well be another planet. 

Although, my dream wasn't just an opportunity to travel. I wanted to help others, be a part of something bigger than myself, serve my country and give back to a world full of people - even if we've never met. These principles all led me to the U.S. Air Force. 

As an active duty public affairs Airman, I was stationed at Joint Base Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. The city quickly became my second home, and the people in my office were a second family. I was fortunate to have tremendous leadership, sharp supervisors and some of the hardest working Airmen in the Air Force. During my time with the 628th Air Base Wing, I developed to my fullest potential as an Airman. 

As my contract came to a close, I knew I'd be returning to college to complete my degree and become an art teacher. However, as the days got closer, the thought of separating from the Air Force didn't feel right. I wasn't sure what to do... on one hand, I wanted to pursue my original passion of art education, yet on the other the best years of my life were spent as an Airman in Charleston. 

I did both. As fate would have it, an position in the Public Affairs office opened with the 315th Airlift Wing here.  I worked with them on many events during my active duty years, so we were aware of each other’s abilities. It was a great fit, yet one thing was missing... I still had never left the country. 

For me, a mission wasn't about escaping life. It was about my life escaping me, and wanting to help others before it did. Even now, typing this I can feel youth slipping away forever. I wake up, and being a teenager is so distant it’s like it never happened. Childhood memories are reduced to nostalgic cartoons and fading photographs. Joining the Air Force Reserve was my chance to see the world, serve my country, maintain the structured family life that suited my lifestyle and continue becoming an art teacher.

The first country I ever stepped foot on was Haiti, followed shortly after by Saint Kitts and Nevis. I boarded a C-17 Globemaster III, loaded with 16 pallets of humanitarian aid for these countries. If all of this were a Splash Mountain ride, then needless to say... the log was about to hit the slippery slope.

I was only in Haiti for about an hour. It wouldn't be fair to write about it in depth because all I had were first impressions. I wish I was able to say more. So here's what I will say; stepping off the plane, the heat was overwhelming. The airport was surrounded by dry mountains that were covered with slums built so closely together they appeared to tile the mountainside. The homes were various sizes and colors, some appearing very elegant while others much more minimal. I wanted to be there. But I knew this was only a stop.

With beads of sweat gliding down my face, I was warmly welcomed by locals. They shook my hand and appeared very grateful for the food. Haiti, located on the western part of the island of Hispaniola, is one of the poorest countries in the world.

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti (just 16 miles west of the city we landed in, Port-Au-Prince), and resulted in more than 160,000 deaths and affecting more than 3 million Haitians. The lasting effects of the disaster still linger, due to the fact the country was already in poverty prior to the earthquake. The morgues in Port-Au-Prince were filled with thousands of bodies, leading to mass burials. Many remained missing. 

I wasn't looking to travel in the traditional sense of the word. I was looking to experience the world, while serving the interests of the United States. I wanted my Air Force story to have many pages written in only a short amount of time. These goals were all successful because I became an Air Force Reservist. Since Haiti, I have been able to see other parts of the world while continuing the Air Force mission and look forward to experiencing many more in the future. 




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