Life lesson: Don’t forget family

official photo of SMSgt. Richard Hardin

official photo of SMSgt. Richard Hardin

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Like many of you, I am a very proud American and Airman and have always done exactly what has been asked of me through my military career.

The U.S. Air Force has given me so much over my 17 years of service that I’ve felt that I owe a debt that I must repay—sometimes blindly.

First off, I was recruited for U.S. Air Force Honor Guard duty and earned the honor to be a pallbearer during President Ronald Reagan’s funeral. After the Honor Guard, I retrained into the physical medicine career field, which is one of the best jobs that the Air Force has to offer.

When I was notified that I made master sergeant, I applied for first sergeant duty and have taken care of some amazing Airmen over the last five years. I became very receptive to their needs and I wanted to spend more and more time helping them, but I also started to notice that my wife and son seemed to get further away. Eventually, my Airmen became my family and my family became strangers to me.

I was told many times that I needed to throttle down and start looking after my family more before I ended up losing them. I disregarded that wise advice from a chief master sergeant who had been an incredible first sergeant and had traveled down that same road. He spent so much time taking care of his Airmen that he knew them far better than he knew his own wife and children.

That chief, who was such an amazing mentor, decided to retire the very day that I walked into his office to tell him I lost my family. He made that decision because he felt that he failed me and that his counsel wasn’t enough to help me avoid the pain that he had felt. He was heartbroken for me because he saw himself in me. He retired and moved back east to be close to his family or what family he had left.

This chief had such a profound effect on me, but it was what he did in the end that made the biggest difference in my life. Recently, my current wife and children have had a string of medical problems that eventually forced me to make one of the hardest, most heart-wrenching decisions of my life, but this time I chose my family for the first time and voluntarily gave up my diamond.

As you go through your career, give the Air Force as much as you possibly can because our mission is one to be extremely proud of, but please don’t give so much that you can’t give anything to the ones who matter most.

One day, we will all take our uniform off for the last time and what will we be left with? What will our Airmen think of us at our retirement ceremony, the professional success or the personal failure and which matters more?

Keep in mind that our Airmen may want to be just like you someday, so please be careful what example you are setting for them. Use your experiences to guide them, not blind them. If you can do this, they are at least able to see all sides of what it means to be successful and the effects their decisions will have on their future.

I’m not advocating that Airmen choose the Air Force over their family or vice versa, I’m simply saying that we must help our Airmen find what’s most important in life because it goes by in a blink of an eye.