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An Interview With Prince Porter
I served in the Air Force for 26 years, and I retired as a Master Sergeant.
For the first 10 years I worked in Communications and worked behind the scenes working in the Comm Center with the mainframe computers. It is kind of funny because anybody that knows me knows I’m a little challenged when it comes to computers. This career field took me to the Philippines, Portugal and Colorado. For the last 16 years I did recruiting in different places. I was in Buffalo, New York, then I came back to Colorado, then to Hackensack, New Jersey then back here to Colorado.
What was the biggest reason that led you to join the military?
Coming out of high school, I was pretty anti-military because I went through 12 years of Catholic school. I really didn’t like people telling me what to do, so I decided to go to college for a couple of years. I came to a point where I wanted to get out of Philadelphia because I was there for 20 years. I was able to stay out of trouble, but there you can get into trouble without really even trying.
My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, had an uncle who was in the Air Force. He would always come home and he had nice clothes, and a nice car that I admired. Then my sister married a man who was in the Air Force and he was also living a nice lifestyle. I thought that if they could do it, then I could as well. Seeing their lifestyle was really the driving force that got me to join the military.
I initially talked to a Marine recruiter, but his tone and the way he wasn’t really listening to me, but rather telling me what he thought I should do, made me decide to not join the Marines. Then I went to talk to the Air Force recruiter, and her attitude was a lot different. She had me pass the initial test, then the physical and then she asked me what I wanted to do in the Air Force. My mother in-law had told me to go into Communications, so that’s what I told the recruiter that I wanted to do. After that I was put on the waiting list, and it took about seven months for me to get enlisted.
What was like the biggest lesson that you learned during your time in service?
The biggest lesson was finding that the Air Force is just like being in the outside world. Everybody thinks it’s just hollering, screaming, and taking orders, like what we see in the movies. To me, it was just like a regular job outside of the military. The base is even like a little little city because you have everything that you need. There is a grocery store, a club, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and more all self-contained right there on the base. Realistically, you don’t even have to leave the base if you didn’t want to.
I always tell people that I don’t play well with others, and everybody asked me how I got through the Air Force for 26 years with that mentality. I didn’t have people telling me what to do because I did my job and fulfilled all my duties, so there was really no reason for anyone to say anything to me. My biggest lesson was learning that it is just like any other job. If you do your job then people will leave you alone, and you can progress at your own speed.
Do you feel that the military has made you a better person?
I feel that my family is what really made me a better person. Going into the military, I had a pretty strong foundation. I’m the youngest of six, I have five older sisters, a very strong mother, and my father passed away when I was 13. Times were a bit different then, so I had my neighborhood, which was basically my village, to raise me. My village sculpted me and got me ready for the real world.
I wouldn’t say the Air Force made me a better person, but it exposed me to things that I wouldn’t be exposed to living as a civilian. It gave me a chance to travel, and to see and learn different cultures even within the United States. Basically, the military takes a bunch of different people from across the nation and places them in one job and expects them to work together. The Air Force definitely exposed me to a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have seen if I had stayed in Philadelphia, but as far as making me a better person, I definitely would give all the credit to my village growing up.
As a black man who served in the military, what is your perspective on patriotism?
When I first went into the military, it wasn’t about serving my country to me. Although, I did become more patriotic while I was in the Air Force because I appreciated some of the opportunities that it gave me. A lot of the time, my attitude was that I wasn’t necessarily fighting for my country, as bad as that sounds. I enjoyed being there, but it was more for a career than to proudly wave the American flag.
My first base was in the Philippines, and me and my wife tried to teach ourselves the language there. Although we weren’t very good at it, we tried to learn it to be able to communicate with the locals there. On the base, we would have people come and complain and ask why the locals can’t speak English, when we are the ones in their country. I saw that privileged Americans wanted to go to somebody else’s country and expect to be catered to there, and not even put in the effort to learn their language. When my wife and I attempted to learn the language, even though we would stumble through our words, the locals were appreciative of us at least trying, and that opened up a lot of doors of opportunity for us.
I really didn’t have patriotism, if I had to go into a conflict, it was for my family, and not necessarily for my country, it was in order to keep my family free. I appreciate the opportunity that the Air Force gave me, but because of the way I was treated, and my people were treated, I really wasn’t serving because of patriotism, but more to protect my family.