“SIE: Self-Initiated Elimination” by Harry Tabata

“And one for teamwork!,” bellowed SSgt* Perez (cadre member)**.

“Hoo-yah***, sergeant!,” they yelled. A line of young airmen, all of them in the front leaning rest, completed one more push-up. They were wearing brown shirts and tiny black shorts, sweating in the hot Texas sun.

“And one for the fallen!”


Suddenly, I woke up, checking my surroundings. I’m sitting in my soft bed, no brown shirt, no black shorts. Oh yeah, that’s not me anymore.

A long time ago, in a state far, far away, was a young man joined the US Air Force, under contract to join the elite combat controller program. They had enticed him with the idea of raining fire on the enemies of America, and earning a four thousand dollar sign-up bonus.

Fast forward to air traffic control school:

“You know why Airman Tabata is faster than all of you. It’s not because he’s stronger or faster. It’s because he has heart. He has heart. Do another 10 laps in the pool.”

They were many weeks into this phase, and young airman Tabata thought “Man, this sucks.” But he stuck through it, kept pushing himself. This was what he wanted to do; that this was his ticket to become the American badass he wanted to be.

2-3 weeks later:                  

The time was 0600. Young airman Tabata was waiting in the gym of the combat controller school house. He spots one of the cadre.

“Hey SSgt Charvat, I need to talk to you,” he announces at parade rest.

“Yeah, what’s up airman Tabata?”

“I… I want to SIE.”

“…are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes SSgt.”

“Come with me then, we’ll get the paperwork started.”

Suddenly, that young airman went from rock star status, to zero. This was the end of the dream of young airman Tabata.

For the first time in my life I experienced soul-crushing failure. I felt numb. Then I felt like I let myself down, my team down. I cried that very night, calling home with news that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in my life. Yet life goes on, and I learned to adapt. Looking back, the military gave me a crash course on life. And that sometimes, it takes more than heart for dreams to become reality.

* Staff Sergeant

** Analogous to instructor

*** Analogous to Hua! Generally described as a military affirmative. Often satirized

Biography forthcoming.