By Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Timothy Winfree picked up his first cigarette at the ripe age of 14. He distinctly remembers the smells, the sounds and the reason he made the bold choice that would affect his life for the next 15 years.
“Where I grew up it was the thing to do,” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Winfree, 50th Mission Support Group superintendent. “I grew up in North Carolina where we picked tobacco, smoked and chewed tobacco.”
Back then, it was common place for young people to smoke and at about 75 cents to a dollar for a pack of smokes, very accessible.
It was around age 18 that the Chief said smoking really took hold of his life.
“I became a serious smoker around that time,” he commented.
Some people’s definition of serious smoker may vary but to the Chief, a serious smoker was someone who consumed anything over a pack of cigarettes a day, and he was pushing toward two packs by then.
“It didn’t affect me, at least I didn’t see it affecting me,” he said. “It was cool, I was cool. Back then it was accepted, if you were an adult you smoked … period.”
The Chief quit smoking for the first time when he joined the Air Force … for six weeks, the length of basic training.
“The day we graduated, immediately after we were let loose I hightailed it over to the shoppette and bought a pack,” he said.
Through his technical training, his air base defense training, and his first two duty stations as a security police member the Chief worked up to smoking at least two packs a day.
“When you’re a cop you have plenty of time to be a heavy smoker,” the Chief commented. “All of us smoked, all of us dipped. It was a different time back then. When you walked into see the first sergeant he would be sitting behind his desk smoking a cigarette. There would be ash trays at your desk right next to your typewriter.”
It wasn’t until 1994 when the Chief became a Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, instructor that he decided to cut back.
“I just didn’t think it was appropriate to smoke during the day around the kids, with me being a DARE instructor,” he said. “So I would only smoke at night, at home, never during the day. After dinner was the time, right after the meal was over I would have to have that after dinner cigarette, no matter what.”
About that time, the Chief began participating in many of the different security forces competitions that pitted the best of the best in their careerfield against each other.
“I’d been participating in these challenges and noticed that I just wasn’t competing well,” he said. “These are very physical challenges and I wasn’t holding up with everyone else and I didn’t like it.”
In 1997, Chief Winfree decided that the reason behind his poor competition performance was due to the smoking so he decided to quit.
“I quit cold turkey, no help no nothing,” said the Chief. “I was tired of running the obstacle course and throwing up immediately afterward. I was tired of running a quarter mile and not being able to catch my breath afterward. I was 29 and for the first time, really actually felt the effects of smoking.”
It wasn’t easy for the Chief, but he used fitness to get him over the cravings.
“I would run every single day,” he said. “At first it was just one mile, that’s it. Then it became two, three and soon it was seven and eight miles at a time with ease.”
It wasn’t just his endurance that improved. Other benefits began to appear.
“The biggest for me was my overall physical ability,” he commented. “It improved dramatically, within six weeks, I had faster run times and I could complete the obstacle course with energy to spare.”
Money was also an improvement that the Chief was able to see immediately.
“I had more of it,” he joked. “Two packs a day was roughly a carton a week. Back then it was maybe $20 a carton. I immediately saw the change quitting had on my wallet.”
It’s been more than 13 years since the last time the Chief has picked up a cigarette. Even now, he still gets cravings.
“Dinner time is difficult sometimes,” he said. “For so many years after dinner I would go smoke a cigarette and now I don’t, but the thought is still there.”
Over the past decade, smoking cessation programs have helped millions of people quit. There’s counseling, hypnosis, nicotine patches and gum, even medicine that blocks nicotine from reaching the brain’s pleasure sensors.
But, Chief Winfree says no one will quit until they want to quit.
“If you want to quit, you will quit. If you don’t want to quit, nothing is going to make you quit, not the health risks, not the money, not the bad breath or yellow teeth,” he said. “Find something, anything that gives you the motivation you need to walk away.”
Once you walk away he says the pros far outweigh the cons.
“Quitting smoking made me stronger,” he said. “It helped me find my own willpower, my own self discipline. I know that I can do anything because I’ve already passed something so difficult.”