When I was a kid dreaming of what I would be as an adult, not once did I ever dream about joining the U.S. Air Force.

Oh no. I had a simple, four-year plan to success.

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Senior Airman (Airman First Class at time of photo) Kara Mitchell shooting video during a military exercise on Camp Bullis.

I devised this plan when I was 8 years old. I even wrote it in my diary with the cats on the front and the lock that never worked.

I was going to go straight to college, pay for college using the full-ride scholarship I would earn, graduate with honors and then go seamlessly into a career I loved.

Just a few years later, I was a 23-year-old college drop-out with an impending divorce and almost no skills.

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Senior Airman Kara Mitchell and members of 3d Combat Camera during a military training exercise in Texas.

Basically, I had taken a match to my plan and burned it to the ground. Then I did a little fire dance and threw the cat diary on the flames for good measure.

I decided I had to do something to stave off total failure, so I started taking classes again. My adviser told me I needed a communication credit, to which I probably rolled my eyes and wondered why I needed algebra and communication credits if I wasn’t ever going to use them.

I then chose a communication course based on what sounded the least lame and worked with my schedule. Side note, I still currently do that.

There I was, sitting in a community college night class for mass communication. Definitely not my childhood dream.

I expected to get nothing out of it except a grade and move on with my degree.

I can trace the entire course of my career back to that class. Every professional skill I have started there. I had never loved a class so much or felt so natural at anything.

Spoiler alert, I changed my major again. Communication degree this time.

I was beyond motivated to earn my degree and ready to be a full-time student.

Second spoiler alert (but if you don’t already know this, then I want to live in your unicorn and rainbow filled reality) college is really expensive and I needed a way to pay for it.

Enter stage left, the Air Force.

Join the Air Force, don’t screw up, get free college. I’m not great at math, but it all seemed to add up.

Maybe algebra is a valuable life skill.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ashley Manz (Staff Sgt. at the time, left), Senior Airman Kara Mitchell (center) and Tech. Sgt. Holly Roberts-Davis (right) during a video shoot on Joint Base Lackland, Texas.

I went to a recruiter and discussed my options. I told her the field I was studying and she held up her finger to me and told me to shut up for a second. She rummaged in some files, typed furiously on the computer and smiled at me.

“I’ve never put anyone in this job before, but I think you’ll like it. What do you think about being a broadcast journalist?”

It was like the job was lit up in neon pink, flashing furiously over and over again. Sparks were literally flying out of it when I read the description. Ok, maybe they were figuratively flying out, there wasn’t an actual fire in the recruiter’s office.

That was the second moment I can trace everything back to.

The next years I spent as a broadcaster in the Air Force are the years I pinpoint as the best years of my life, basic training aside.

I became a better, stronger version of myself. I owe more than I can explain to the Air Force. I just had a little tear in my eye when I typed that. No I’m not crying, you’re crying.

The Air Force gave me so much but my job also taught me invaluable skills. My first duty station sent me to a squadron called 3rd Combat Camera, and when I first got my orders I thought to myself “So this is how I die.”

Instead of dying I got to take part in amazing video productions, and I learned from experts who had been in the communication field for decades.

I made the decision to leave the Air Force for a variety of reasons, but mainly I was ready to move on and follow the path I had set for myself. I wanted to do what I had set out to do. I wanted to finish that degree.

Enter stage right, another detour.

I left the Air Force with a job offer to become a communication coordinator with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program and the opportunity was too good for me to say no. School fell to the back burner again.

Oh look. Life detours entering from stage left and right and now there’s even one coming up on stage from the audience. “Excuse me Mr. Detour, please return to your seat.”

My health took a huge nosedive, and I had to leave the amazing job I had worked so hard for. It wasn’t the best time of my life.

Life didn’t keep me in lemons for too long though. After leaving my position at Air Force Wounded Warrior, my new husband (new is always better) and I moved to Utah, and my health improved. Now I’m a full-time student at Weber State majoring in communication with an emphasis in public relations.

Look ma, I’m back on my path!

Now that I’m in school I use my Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to pay for my entire tuition, student fees and even books. Plus, I get paid a monthly stipend while I’m a full-time student. Because I earned those benefits in the military, I get to go to school and get paid to do it.

Winning.

This story isn’t over yet. It’s so important to understand that my civilian career isn’t aligning with my military career by accident. I made a plan and through sheer grit and stubbornness I stuck with my plan, even when life was lobbing detours, snowballs, sticks and even rotten vegetables.

I became a broadcaster in the Air Force because the job aligned with what I wanted to do as a civilian. I knew I wasn’t interested in spending 20 years in the military, and so I needed to make sure my job translated into a civilian career.

The most important piece of advice I can give anyone considering a military career is to think about the job they are offering you. If you don’t stay in the military, can you do that job as a civilian? If you can do it as a civilian, then what other qualifications will you need in the civilian world?

Translating your career from military to civilian takes forethought. The benefits of joining the military are innumerable but there are also many drawbacks. I made sure those drawbacks were worth what I was getting out of it.

Research the job the recruiter is offering. Job titles can be misleading. They can make toilet cleaning sound like a thrilling ride. Reach out to someone who is already in the military and works the job you want.

Remember that a recruiter’s priorities are different than yours. Stick to the job you want even if you have to wait for it. I waited eight months for mine.

Make a plan and keep it. Kick those detours back into the audience. When they enter from stage left and right tell them they’re early for their cue.

When one of those detours inevitably makes it on stage, just know that you can come back to your path.

You can burn the cat diary, but make sure to save the dream.

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