Spent, but never redeemed: Airman shares his path to purpose

  • Published
  • By Capt. Matthew Chism
  • USAF Expeditionary Center Public Affairs

In the 2011 movie, “In Time,” we followed the main character Will Salas who was burdened by his quest for more time to live. Each person in this fictional future was given a finite time to live and the currency used to pay and barter for goods was time. In everything he did, every decision he made, he was constantly calculating its effect on his existence. He relentlessly pursued gaining more time, but serious consequences also forced him to realize the value of making the most out of every second.

Master Sgt. Orlando Salas Jr. doesn’t have a timer embedded in his arm, but he too is relentless in his desire to make the most of his life, every minute of it.

From an early age growing up in San Antonio, Texas, he knew he wanted to be in the military.

“When I was a kid I wanted to be a soldier more than anything,” said Salas. “I used to paint my face and everything. Once with JROTC we went and did the obstacle course on base and I thought that was just the coolest thing ever.”

Salas entered the Air force in 2001 as a civil engineering assistant, but always wanted to find a way to be “in the action” like he dreamed of as a child. That opportunity presented itself in 2011 when he received orders to the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Operations School.

Salas, who is a 421st Combat Training Squadron instructor and land navigation lead at the USAF EOS, teaches deploying Joint service members different skills to increase their ability to survive and operate in deployed and austere locations. Prior to this role he taught the self-protection portion of the course which provides self-defense and other practical use-of-force training.

When he first arrived at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey Salas wanted to pursue volunteer leadership positions to get some practical experience in business, so he chose to volunteer in his off-time with private organizations.

“When I started out volunteering I had to lay out my objective right away; like I learned getting my MBA, we have to have a bigger purpose,” he said. “In my first organization I was just trying really hard to get money for them and we were successful. In my next position though, I went into it with a purpose to improve moral and improve communications among other private organizations. That opened up a broader aspect of success.”

As he accomplished tasks at work and in these volunteer positions, underlying family issues began to surface. He soon became weary of spending extra time away from them for personal endeavors. After prodding a fellow Airman to share his experiences in faith, Salas decided to take his wife and five children to church.

“I felt like I was not the best father, husband, or Airman; I was not the best at being what I should be as a man,” Salas said. “Sometimes you don’t even realize the effect you have on other people until someone is able to articulate that for you, both positively and negatively.”

Salas found additional mentors and perspectives about living a full life at church and believes that the experience has made his family stronger as well.

“My Wife is now the pastor’s assistant,” said Salas. “My oldest daughter supports the nursery. My oldest son, he is involved in the junior ushers. My daughter, my third oldest, is a nursery helper. My younger son and youngest daughter attend kids’ church. And everybody is involved by their own choice.”

After initially volunteering to be an usher, at the Bridge Worship Center in Pemberton, New Jersey, Salas was selected to become the ministry development leader where he provides direction for ushers, greeters, security, and guest services personnel.

Salas explained that he was grateful to the previous volunteer experiences in the base organizations because they prepared him to serve in another area that he is just as passionate about.

“The church is very like much a private organization,” said Salas. “We have by-laws, a constitution. We have things we can and can’t do. I felt like I already had a leg up with the knowledge base that is required for that kind of stuff because of my other volunteer positions.”

“(Volunteering) always gave more direction and purpose to what I was doing.”

He also credits the church and its members for re-inspiring him in the profession of arms.

“You always have to have a cause and reason why you’re doing stuff,” he said. “I think it lends towards the validity of your actions. What’s your objective? It’s got to be about more than, “I just want to make money.” “I just want to make rank.” You have to have a purpose.”

Salas said that finding that greater purpose is what drives him to reflect each day on how he has spent his time.

“I often ask myself did I spend my time wisely,” said Salas. “Think about spending each available moment, where you can, to better yourself and those around you and you won’t feel like I have to check this (volunteer) box. Rather, you’ll feel like, “I want to do this.””

Time is not something that can be redeemed, but time has to be spent,” concluded Salas.

Want to volunteer, but don't know how to get started? Visit your local Airman & Family Readiness Center or www.myairforcevolunteer.com for help!