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You could get $90,000 just for reading this!

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- What would you be willing to do for $90,000? Would you come to work on time every day? Would choose your associates more wisely? Would you abstain from drinking too much alcohol? If you knew you would get a $90,000 bonus just for staying out of trouble for a few years, would you? Of course you would, yet as the area defense counsel for Offutt, I see numerous first-term enlisted Airmen who seem to have forgotten the great benefits available to them if only they could finish their first enlistment honorably. 

One of the greatest benefits is the new Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Veterans Affairs Administration predicts that the average veteran who uses the GI Bill will get about $90,000 over three years in tuition, books and living expenses. It's all about keeping things in perspective and keeping your eyes on the $90,000 prize. Basically, all you have to do to be eligible for the full 9/11 GI Bill benefit is complete three years of active-duty service after Sept. 10, 2001 and receive an honorable discharge. 

How do you complete three years honorably? Keep your eyes on the prize and serve with the end in mind, whatever end that might be. Based on my experiences and observations as an attorney, here's some advice that may help. 

First, realize a premature discharge from the Air Force, without an honorable discharge, means the loss of more than just a job and the GI Bill. It means the loss of other benefits such as hiring preferences, medical benefits and loan availability. With a less than honorable discharge, you also lose the benefits that would have come with continued military service, such as world travel, retirement pay, the option to transfer 9/11 GI Bill benefits to your family members, medical and dental coverage, base exchange and commissary privileges and so much more. 

Second, learn from your mistakes. Most of the time, Airmen don't get discharged for one-time mistakes unless a serious crime has been committed. Your commander will usually let you get by with one or two small instances of misconduct, but once he or she hears your name repeatedly associated with misconduct you can be assured your commander will soon consider administrative discharge. If you're discharged for misconduct, it is next to impossible to receive an honorable discharge characterization. 

Third and most important, avoid forming habits and putting yourself in situations that lead to trouble. What habits and situations are these? I'm sure you've heard it all before, but let's review some of the most commonly repeated problems I see as a defense attorney. 

First, avoid drinking to get drunk and never associate with people whose only goal is to get drunk. If I could only give one piece of advice based on my experience, this would be it. I would even advise Airmen to never drink more than two beers or alcoholic beverages in an evening. If you plan on getting drunk, plan on dealing with the consequences that might come from being drunk. The vast majority of misconduct I see happening on base involves people doing dumb things when they're intoxicated. 

You should know that for most crimes, including serious offenses such as unpremeditated murder and sexual assault, being intoxicated is not a defense. So, if you're ever accused of a crime that you allegedly committed when you were drunk, you will be held to the same standard as a sober person, even though your thought process and decision-making ability was diminished. Also, under Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, if you have sex with someone who is too drunk to appraise the nature of what he or she is doing, or too drunk to say no, you could be convicted of aggravated sexual assault even though you were as drunk as he or she was. Don't take the risk - keep all of your wits about you and don't drink to excess. 

Second, never lie, even if you think it will help you stay out of trouble. Lying may have worked for you in high school, but the stakes are much different in the military. In most cases, I can assure you that your commander and supervisors will easily see through any attempts to hide the truth. Once you have lied and compromised your integrity, it's a hard road to regain the confidence of your unit. Without your unit's confidence, your path to a successful enlistment becomes much harder. 

Be selective of who you choose to associate with. Be outgoing and friendly to everyone - but be selective of who you choose to spend your spare time with. It seems Airmen most often get into trouble when they are in the wrong groups. Not only can you get into trouble if you commit a crime as a result of peer pressure, but in a group you can also get in trouble for seeing a crime committed and not reporting it or for negligently allowing it to happen. 

Other common roots of trouble for young Airmen include the use of file sharing programs like Limewire, being repeatedly late for duty, failing to maintain and live within a budget and not eating right or exercising regularly. Avoiding these typical and common trouble spots can help you ensure you don't lose out on some great opportunities that come with honorable military service. 

Military service isn't just a job, it's a valuable opportunity. It's a privilege, but not a right. Serve with the end in mind, whatever end that might be. It isn't too hard to stay out of trouble. In my experience it's much more difficult to get out of trouble once you're in it than to avoid it in the first place. 

There are so many great opportunities available in the Air Force. Keep your eye on the prize. Is staying out of trouble worth $90,000 to you?