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Should I stay or should I go?

SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq -- One Airman's decision about her future has weighed heavily on her mind, and it reflects a dilemma that many first-term Airmen face as they reach the end of their first enlistments.

What keeps Senior Airman Erin Morit awake at night isn't the noise of the many aircraft that fly in and out of nearby Baghdad International Airport. It's the decision to either commit to a second enlistment or take her chances in the civilian job market.

Men and women join the Air Force for many reasons, whether those reasons are based in patriotism or a desire for education and self-improvement. Airman Morit's twin brother, Jesse, is considering an Air Force career of his own back home in Frackville, Penn.

However, for Airmen nearing the end of their first enlistment, the decision to either reenlist or separate can be tougher than their original decision to join.

Airman Morit originally planned to reenlist Aug. 8 on the wing of a C-17 Globemaster III. But only hours before she was to renew her Oath of Enlistment, she got cold feet.

"I've loved being in the Air Force, and there are lots of reasons to stay, but I just don't know if staying will get me where I want to go in life," said Airman Morit, who is deployed to the 447th Air Expeditionary Group from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. "Another problem is that I don't quite know for sure where I want to go in life yet."

That's the dilemma Airman Morit and many other Airmen wrestle with.

Air Force recruiters use something called the MATTRESS of benefits to explain the advantage of an Air Force Career to potential recruits. The acronym stands for money, advancement, travel, training, recreation, education, service and security -- but for Airman Morit, those benefits are also a double-edged sword.

"Working in the command post, I have a career field that is an important part of the mission at all bases," she said. "The command post is like the nerve center of each base. It's critical in both daily operations and in during an emergency."

Career security and a steady paycheck on are important considerations, but education is an area of concern, Airman Morit said.

"We work rotating shifts, and the command post remains open and fully operational 365 days a year," she said. "It's very difficult to balance personal and professional responsibilities, and it's even harder to pursue education goals other than on-line classes."

Airman Morit's concern with remaining on active duty is that she wants to attend college in a traditional classroom setting, something not easy to do in her career field. Every Airman has differing responsibilities based on his Air Force specialty and pay grade, making traditional college easy for some but difficult for others.

Chief Master Sgt. Ron Gallucci, as the Personnel Support for Contingency Operations team chief, is responsible for helping all enlisted members, like Airman Morit, with their career decisions. Deployed to the 447th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron from the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB, Texas, Chief Gallucci has helped Airmen with such decisions since he first became a supervisor more than 22 years ago.

"The first question Airmen have to ask themselves before making the decision to stay or go is, 'Have I set myself up to be successful when I get out of the Air Force?'" he said. "Each Airman has to make an informed decision based on fact, not emotion. Once he makes his decision, he has to commit 110 percent to reaching his goals."

Chief Gallucci worked with Airman Morit to help her learn about her options and make an informed decision.

"Her job is critical to the Air Force right now, and she may not have the choice to retrain into a different specialty," he said. "She's served with honor, and there is nothing wrong with deciding to move on to something else."

Airmen can also continue their careers in the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.

"Airman Morit is facing a decision all Airmen eventually face, and it's not easy," Chief Gallucci said. "She's part of the Air Force family, and will remain part of that family regardless of her decision. She can be proud of her service, whether she serves four years or 30."

After talking with Chief Gallucci and with only 27 days left in her initial enlistment, Airman Morit reenlisted for another four years. She said she intends to apply to the New York Film Academy when she completes her Air Force career and that she looks forward to taking advantage of the benefits of the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill and the Air Force Tuition Assistance program to pay her tuition and school expenses.