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Symbols We Stow: Tech Sgt. Ryan Padgett

(Editor’s Note: This article is the second in an on-going series.)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.
– Tech. Sgt. Ryan Padgett, 821st Contingency Response Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy loadmaster and ramp coordinator, leans forward in his chair and takes a deep breath.

He recounts the exact moment he decided his leather jacket, an item that has traveled the world with him, would one day belong to his daughter. The jacket is an item that is given to flyers as soon as the Air Force deems them mission capable. 

“It’s one of the defining objects for us as flyers,” said Padgett, “As soon as I retire, I want to take my most visible symbol of my identity in the military and let Annabelle know that my identity as her dad is more valuable to me than even the best or most exciting mission I ever flew.”

Family is at the top of his list of priorities and at the forefront of his mind, even while out flying missions for the U.S. Air Force. That is why he always keeps a photo of his wife, dog tags with a laser engraved photo of his daughter and the leather jacket with him on every mission he flies.

“Those items help remind me of the things in life I have that will transcend my career, and as a result of that, they’re also my anchors,” said Padgett. 

His items are a strong symbol of resiliency and he encourages everyone to have a way of keeping them grounded in their careers. 

“Ryan adores our daughter, and when he is gone it is so hard being away from her,” said Krisha Padgett, Ryan’s wife, “The dog tags were just a way to keep her with him when he’s gone.”

Having an identity outside of the military is important, said Padgett. 

One day his career will be over, but regular life will continue. Keeping something with him as a reminder of what his identity is, a husband and a father before anything else, helps him accomplish this. 

Padgett specifically recalls the importance of having the photo of his wife, on a mission to eastern Europe in 2008. 

“Some things went very wrong with the takeoff and it almost killed 13 of us,” said Padgett.

After successfully recovering from the takeoff and later returning back to his hotel, it was the photo of his wife that kept him calm and ready to do the job again. 

“After I retire, it won’t be the military that will take care of me on my worst days or share the joy and tragedies of life that make it full and rich,” he said, “So, I just pulled out the picture and focused on it.”

His belief in finding an identity outside of his Air Force career is one he tries his best to pass on to people he leads and influences. He said military members are most often taught how to take what they have done and where they have been in their careers with them, but are often not taught how to put those things away.

“I love the idea of a shadowbox,” said Padgett. 

He deems it a great way of taking the successes of his career and “filing them away” so that his military career is not forgotten, but simply tucked away as his identity as a father and husband remains at the forefront.

His biggest plans for the items he has taken with him around the globe are to return them to his family, whether that be his wife or daughter, as a way to say “thank you” for reminding him what is most important in life. 

“To this day, the only place I still get excited to land at is on my last leg home,” he said.