Friday, December 12, 2008

TOP STORY >> Going back to basic

By Senior Airman Nathan Allen
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

My second trip to Lackland Air Force Base was unquestionably less stressful than my first…
About three weeks ago while I was on leave, my supervisor called me with good news. He told me that I had been selected to go on a TDY to accompany Brig. Gen. Wayne Schatz, 19th Airlift Wing commander, to basic training. General Schatz had been asked to speak to that week’s graduating class, an honor he would tell you he has tried to take advantage of many times in the past. So last Thursday, General Schatz, Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley, 19th Airlift Wing command chief, our flight crew, myself, and the other 25 or so selectees boarded a C-130J on a chilly Arkansas morning and flew down to Texas to go “back to basic.”
Though I claim no substantial ties to Texan lineage, going back to Lackland did feel – in a twisted way – like a homecoming of sorts. We arrived in Texas just before noon and were greeted with the deceptively warm, dry Texas weather that immediately assaulted my nose with the same discomfort that was responsible for my twice-daily BMT nosebleeds. In fact, my nose bled so much in basic that my training instructor threatened to put a tourniquet on my nose.
After exiting the plane, we loaded up onto the bus and headed over to the 37th Training Wing headquarters building where we were greeted by the wing’s commander, Brig. Gen. Len Patrick, and its Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Juan Lewis. They escorted us into a large conference room, where we were greeted by two familiar looking characters with perfectly groomed blues. “Not again” I thought as I inconspicuously hid within the crowd and found a seat, familiarly striving to avoid detection. I relaxed a bit when General Patrick assured us the technical instructors’ were simply there to brief us about the base.
The TIs briefed us with various interesting facts about the magnitude of the mission that the men and women of Lackland play in our Air Force. They told us about the 79,000 students trained every year by the programs housed at Lackland – a number that exceeds the undergraduate programs at Texas A&M and the University of Texas. They astounded us with their monthly food expense figure that stood at a robust $2.4 million. The topic on all of our minds, and a large part of the reason for our visit, was the changes made to basic training.
According to Master Sgt. Don Butler, a TI from 331st Training Squadron, the additional two weeks that extended basic training from six to eight weeks are meant to enhance war skills training and introduce new expeditionary skills relevant to the current global security environment. Unlike most of us who experienced “warrior week” during our fourth week of training, these modern trainee’s knowledge and training is put to the test during their sixth week of training during what TI’s both menacingly and affectionately refer to as the BEAST. The BEAST stands for Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training, and takes place after the new two weeks of war skills and expeditionary skills training.
Unlike the previous method of training while at warrior week, now the trainees receive all the base defense, reporting procedures, and rules of engagement training before the BEAST, and their time spent at the BEAST site is purely evaluation where they are graded on how well they defend their base with the training they have received, much like an operational readiness inspection. The new BEAST site is nine times larger than the old deployed training site, and each site has a control tower, tents for the trainees to sleep in, and a hard facility in case of dangerous weather.
The following day, we all woke up early, bundled up with whatever sources of warmth we could get our hands on and headed out to the parade field. Once we arrived there, sadly, we realized that no amount of ABUs, BDUs, blues or flight suits could save us from the piercing, bone chilling winds blowing through Lackland that morning. Trying my best to relive the basic training experience despite the conditions, I strolled around a bit to take a few pictures. The planes surrounding the field, the flights lined up next to the bleachers preparing to march onto the field, the parents in the stands and, of course, more TIs in one place than I ever cared to see again.
The proceedings began ceremoniously as the Master of Ceremonies led us through the playing of the national anthem, ruffles and flourishes, and the Air Force song. As everyone sat down, she continued to talk about the Basic Training graduation and its history while the spectators anxiously waited for the next part of the ceremony to begin. Soon, the flight standing in the center of the parade field came to life and a slow, steady drum rhythm both introduced and instigated the incoming of the graduating flights. One by one, they followed each other to their respective spots and performed their ritual facing movements before they finished by facing the crowd at parade rest.
The guidon bearers for the flights that received special recognition hurried to the front of the field to receive their ribbons and scurried back. Finally, each flight turned to the right to prepare for perhaps the most famous moment in the BMT graduation – pass and review. Each flight walked in a square pattern past the adoring crowd, and as they approached the center of the “bomb run,” each flight’s TI gave them the “eyes right” command, as General Schatz and Chief Brinkley proudly saluted. After the last flight received their salute, and each parent cheered for their child’s respective flight, the students marched back to their place on the field, performed a few more facing movements, and finally marched up to the edge of the bomb run.
General Schatz approached the trainees and imparted a few words of thanks to them and their parents. He told them that the Airmen and their families alike were all now a part of Air Force family, and that we, as a family, have a tremendous responsibility to serve our country in this time of war and the importance of their time spent at Lackland. “Your instructors have given you a foundation to go out and have a fantastic career in our United States Air Force. I want to extend a personal thanks to you for raising your hand today and agreeing to serve our great nation. It is a worthy effort, especially in a day like today, when we are a nation that is at war against terrorism around the world.”
Near the end of his remarks, General Schatz asked the trainees if they were ready to join the ranks of the world’s greatest Airmen. The very seat I sat on shook with the enthusiasm of their reply when they all in unison shouted “Warrior Airmen! Fly, fight, win!” In the following moments as General Schatz led the Airmen in their first Oath of Enlistment, the Air Force’s newest Airmen repeated their oath with the same enthused spirit as before all the way until their final, confirming shout of “so help me God.”
The ceremony ended soon thereafter, and those of us from the Rock boarded on to the bus with some haste. As we all tried to de-frost from the unforgiving Texas wind chill, I began to reflect on my experience on returning to Lackland; seeing my old training squadron again, visiting the new BEAST site, being around TIs again, and finally, reliving the graduation experience all over again. I began to hear voices around the bus starting to tell personal memories of BMT. One voice recalled the time he almost got recycled because he accidentally left clothes out overnight. Another recalled the night they stayed up late past curfew to work on marching the night before their honor flight drill with a weaker member of their flight.
Then it occurred to me how correct General Schatz was when he said that the new Airmen and their families were part of OUR Air Force family now. They share in our experiences now. They make the same sacrifices we do. They understand us better than anybody.


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