I met Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress on July 7, 2012, at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado. Less than two weeks later, he was dead. Now, after three years of reflection, I want to share how his selfless service inspired a turnaround in my life.
I separated from the Air Force in October 2009 after four years on active duty. Burned out from military service, I took a job with a technology company.
My new career was challenging and exciting. I soon met a beautiful woman, got married, and we quickly made plans for the arrival of our first child.
After two years as a civilian though, I found something was absent from my life. I missed the camaraderie, duty and higher purpose associated with the military.
In February 2012, I visited a recruiter and joined the Air Force Reserve.
I was excited to wear a uniform again, but soon found it difficult to make time to fit the military into my life. After two years away from the Air Force, I had amassed a long list of readiness obligations.
I was due for many vaccinations, medical appointments, training sessions and a fitness assessment. I was traveling a lot for my civilian job and found it easy to shrug off my Air Force responsibilities.
Just after the July 4th holiday, I was given an ultimatum to take my fitness test in the next 24 hours or part ways with the military. This ultimatum arrived on a Friday afternoon. I feverishly dialed phones all over Buckley, looking for someone, anyone, qualified to administer my test. I was a grown man and an Air Force officer, but found myself begging strangers to help me salvage my military career.
I hit several dead ends before an enthusiastic staff sergeant, Childress, listened to my story and eagerly agreed to assist.
We met early the next morning at Buckley's fitness center. I was deeply appreciative that this airman took time out of his weekend to help me. The depth of his commitment soon increased as nothing that morning went according to plan.
The instructional binder that fitness proctors must reference was not in its designated place; we drove across the base to pick it up from someone's home.
Back at the gym we realized we did not have the necessary form to record the details of my fitness test; we set out on another adventure to locate and acquire the form.
I suggested throwing in the towel, but Childress continued smiling and never gave a thought to calling off the test.
All of this travel around base gave us time to chat. I learned about the staff sergeant's job as a cyber systems operator. He was a reservist on active-duty orders in the 310th Force Support Squadron. He had joined the Air Force Reserve after serving in the Army. We talked about where he grew up in Southern California, and we shared thoughts on the prospects for the upcoming professional football season.
Just before beginning the fitness test, I consulted an instructional poster to verify the minimum pushups and situps required to pass the assessment. I did the pushups, situps and 1.5 mile run.
As Childress tallied the results, we both realized I was several pushups short of the minimum. I had read the wrong column on the instructional chart and simply did not complete enough pushups.
I was mad at myself for not passing, but even more ashamed for having wasted everyone's time.
The full cost of the Childress' dedication soon became unmistakable. The day of my fitness test, July 7, 2012, was one of the last Saturdays of his life.
On Friday, July 20, 2012, Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress attended the debut of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," in Aurora, Colorado.
About 30 minutes into the film a deranged man carried out a mass shooting inside the theatrer. Childress was one of the 12 people who died in that violence. Newspaper reports indicated that Childress died protecting a friend.
I was eventually given a second opportunity to take my fitness test and was able to resurrect my career in the Air Force Reserve. Jesse was afforded no second chance.
I do not strive for minimums any more — in fitness tests or any other aspect of my Air Force career.
There are too many people whose lives may be impacted if I mess up, even if those impacts are not immediately evident. I have no right leveraging other people's time with my laziness, procrastination and apathy.
If you carry a military ID card, I implore you to respect the hard work and commitment of your fellow service members by taking personal responsibility. Give your best effort every day.
I wish I had learned this lesson under different circumstances, but I will forever be grateful to Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress for what he taught me about attitude, commitment and hard work.
Air Force Reserve Capt. Sean Maday is assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command detachment at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.