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My CCAF journey

Mike Strickler, the Public Affairs director at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and his granddaughter, Zoe, read a bedtime story last December. Twenty-five years prior, his daughter Stephanie (below left) and son Michael motivated him to earn his first Community College of the Air Force degree. (Courtesy photos)

Mike Strickler, the Public Affairs director at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and his granddaughter, Zoe, read a bedtime story last December. Twenty-five years prior, his daughter Stephanie (below left) and son Michael motivated him to earn his first Community College of the Air Force degree. (Courtesy photos)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I sat down hard on the bed in our small Wiesbaden apartment when the news came: child number two was on the way and I knew, right then, that I had to get my collective together.

It was January 1985, cold and sunny, and Kim and I just stared at each other. Child number one was strolling through the house with huge Garfield slippers on, the joy of our lives giggling down the hallway in mommy's shoes and now that joy was to multiply.

I imagined a rush of fuzzy pairs of Garfield heads charging through the house, weaving under the dining room table and filling the rooms. And I was Odie, a damn fool dog with merely a handful of college credits, tongue wagging stupid and lazy. That had to change.

The following Monday I was in the base Education Office at Lindsey Air Station looking for a better life for my family and I found experienced hands ready to help.

It was 1985 and I was a young senior airman not yet 21, only as smart as my combat camera technical school with some early life lessons in marriage and parenting. Now, more than 25 years later, I'm Director of Public Affairs here and still in school, working in my third graduate degree program, writing a book, and taking on a PhD.

It all began with a Community College of the Air Force degree.

I started with a business course with Embry Riddle; then I enrolled in an algebra class and found a knack for trinomials and properties of equality that just didn't exist in high school. It's funny how a few life lessons, like marriage and kids, can make one a scholar. It wasn't long before I had a two-year degree in my hands and by then, I was hooked.

Thank God and the Air Force for tuition assistance. I can't remember how much I made as a staff sergeant back then, but the amount the Air Force kicked in for school each year probably doubled it. You will not find a better employer than the USAF in supporting your educational goals, both in terms of assistance and moral support. And the more you know in this organization, the higher you'll go.

How high? It depends on your aim.

For me, I decided to apply for Officer Training School and was selected only months after sewing on technical sergeant, promotion being a great benefit of good study habits learned in college. I had a pretty good package going in because the English and History courses I took prepared me for the Noncommissioned Officers Academy, where I won the John Levitow award. In OTS the management skills I learned in college allowed me to earn recognition as a distinguished graduate, and that got me into blue chip schools and provided opportunities I never knew existed.

Business, English, history, management and math. You'll take all manner of courses to achieve advanced degrees, but it's the bedrock subjects you'll study in getting your CCAF degree that will help the most. All you have to do is sign up, show up, and apply yourself.

It's been said that the constant pursuit of knowledge is an addiction. If so, then it's a craving to understand more about yourself and those things and people around you, and learning is the bug that keeps your interest in life burning.

My favorite saying is "You don't know what you don't know" and it has aptly applied to all situations of life I've found, especially in the military. That day in the Lindsey Education Center I found out just how much I didn't know, and then, found out how I could find out more. I haven't looked back since.

Twenty-five years ago that little girl in the too-big slippers motivated me to be better than I was, and now she's a nurse, working on her masters degree with a husband and a daughter of her own (who is very bright, and loves learning). Our son is an Air Force air traffic controller and father, an honor graduate from basic training and technical school. He is excelling on his own CCAF journey and, when he graduates, Kim and I will be there because we know how important that degree is.

The things you do today will affect so many others, especially the ones you love. So get involved, sign up, show up and get ready for a great ride. All it takes is some willpower and faith, and that's where all great stories are born. Your story is waiting just ahead.
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