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From Marine to Airman

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- I was standing in the parking lot of the barracks I had called home for the past three years aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.  There was a slight desert wind across my bald head, and the sun was brightly shining across cloud free skies, as is common in this Arizona region that is the #1 sunniest place on Earth.  That's not even a hyperbole: Google it.  My 2010 Toyota Corolla was accessorized with a small U-Haul sports trailer and in my hand was a freshly signed copy of my DD-214.  ... I may or may not have been taking a selfie at this moment...

It was October 15, 2012 and I was officially EAS'd from the active duty Marine Corps where I served for five years as a combat photographer. 

The tiny hair follicles could already be felt piercing through the skin of my face.  In a few days I could almost imagine it being evolved into a mountainous beard that could be featured on paper towel ads!  ... or it'd just be three days worth of fine grained stubble... but in my mind I'd have morphed into a ravage form of the locked-and-popped "devil dog" that I'd been for the past several years.  Holey jeans, facial hair and sleeping in til 0700!

I had a great Marine Corps experience and wouldn't trade it for anything.  The pride, honor and occasional misery we all shared is what created the unity to the sacred club of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.  That's all cliché and great of course.  Joining at the age of 27, I wasn't looking for the military to define me, for I was already quite well define as who I was as a person.  When I randomly walked into the recruiter's office in June of 07' I was looking for a challenge and a way to experience life!  

Challenge accomplished - on to the next. 

The official plan was to head back to St. Joseph, Mo., where in the near future I'd be attending Northwest Missouri State University to study Multimedia Journalism.  I wasn't married, I had no kids, and my Marine Corps experience consisted of hopping from unit to unit telling their story through photos and captions.  Whether that was a grunt unit patrolling the streets in Iraq, a swarm of AH-1 Cobra's raining hell from the sky above Yuma Proving Grounds, or hundreds of Marines and sailors manning the rails of the USS Iwo Jima as it coasted through the waters of Hudson Bay.

The first thing I did when I got back to St. Joseph was sign up for a Rugged Maniac 5k mud run in KC.  A couple of weeks later I signed up for the Turkey Trot on St. Joe's river walk.  For my entire time in the military all we ever did was run, but this civilian running thing was surprisingly relaxing.  No pressure, no competition, no senior enlisted eyes piercing your soul as PFT time came. 
That yearly 3-miles we had to run always seemed so hard.  It wasn't because of the distance; it was hard due to the pressure that that particular three miles had attached to it. 

As I ran that turkey trot, I felt like Forrest Gump.  I felt freed from my life of expectations, and "for no particular reason, I just felt like running."  I ran and I ran and I ran and before I knew it... I'd run a 5k.

It was leading up to the Rugged Maniac that I conveniently found a crew to run with, and that is how I got introduced to the previously unconsidered prospect of the Air National Guard. 

Krista Abernethy and Talia Klein were a couple people on that crew and as we shared stories of our military experiences, joining the Air National Guard just seemed logical.  In the position I was in life, having just gotten off of active duty, "two days a month and two weeks a year", seemed like the least I could do with my time.

I'm not going to lie - after two weeks of being out of the military, I started having withdrawals.  While running past Phil Welch Stadium I felt that I wouldn't mind having a foot remain in the world of the military as I pursue my journey as a civilian.  Plus with a measly weekend a month, I'd be exposed to experiences that I otherwise wouldn't have.  Not to mention keeping up my retirement benefits. Win/win situation! 

However I had to keep my Marine bravado up for a couple months.  I couldn't just join a non-Marine branch without cracking a few pretentious jokes.  What would my fellow Marines say if I didn't give the Air Force a hard time? Ha.

Less than 6-months after I left Yuma and plenty of time to grow a luscious beard, I was clean-shaven and raising my right hand to enlist in the Air National Guard. 

I can't speak for active duty Air Force, but a "civilian warrior" is what it is.  I could compare it to the Marine Corps until I'm blue in the face standing up on my chair belting out the Marine Corps Hymn with righteous indignation and waving a knife hand in contempt.  The National Guard isn't active duty by definition.  It doesn't have the same expectations or demands.  I'm a civilian, with a civilian job, civilian responsibilities, civilian school and a civilian beard for 28 days of the month.  I'm all of this plus a Guardsmen who sacrifices a mere weekend to train to keep my state united, my community safe and prepared to deploy as my job could necessitate.

It's more than that noble description though.  I might have joined due to my comfort in the military and wanderlust for experiences, but the Air Guard had a lot of unexpected payouts.   As a Combat Photographer for the Marines I learned a lot of great skills as a storyteller and worked with some very talents men and women who had much to learn from.  However, with any active duty military occupation, that experience pool to pull from is limited to the military world.

In my civilian life, as well as being a student, I'm a freelance photographer in the St. Joseph area.  After only two years in the 139th Public Affairs I've been very fortunate to meet and work with people who do this same thing in the regular life around a four state radius.  That experience I have to pull from and the connections I've made are priceless to the furthering of my career. 

It is more than just some bonus personal development factors though. I feel more apart of the community of St. Joe then I ever had before the Air Guard.  We are truly part of the community over here at Rosecrans.  Maybe that is because our community in relation to others, truly appreciates the work we do here and the added dimension that we give to St. Joe.   I hear the words of praise from community leaders for the Air Guard while working for the Visitors Bureau covering various award ceremonies.  I hear it during the regular visits from the mayor and other civic leaders to the base.   The interwoven tapestry between the Air Guard and the community truly surprises me.

It's been almost three years since I stood in that dry heat of Yuma, skipping to my car with sweaty hands soaking my paperwork.  I still feel like I'm in a transition period.  I still feel like I have a lot more ducks to get in the row before I move into my future.  I don't know if St. Joe will be part of it, but I can guarantee the Air Guard will be.

About the author: Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson is a photojournalist assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard