Monday, August 8, 2011

Leaving Lackland

[This was written Monday, August 1st, as I flew from Lackland AFB to Keesler AFB.]

I started my summer vacation as a civilian, a military spouse.  A mere eight and a half weeks later, I leave Texas as a military service member, a Warrior Airman.  Eight and a half weeks, a smidge over two months, is nothing in mil spouse land.  "That's barely enough time to miss him," I'd tell you if you asked me before I left.  Now I've experienced eight and a half weeks on the other side.

If your service member admits that they don't have time to think about you, believe it.  It's not impossible, it's nothing personal.  While my BMT experience doesn't compare to a deployment, the busy, long days left me with no time to think about DH, nor what was going on at home.  Sure, I dreamt of camping with him on a warm summer night, up near a mountain lake, laying out under the stars, but I barely had time to meditate on the heat, let alone contemplate the life I'd left behind.  I don't think I looked at myself in the mirror for the first three weeks [you can imagine what my eyebrows looked like] - there was simply no time allotted to us.

As I've said before, I underestimated what I'd face at BMT.  As an older, educated trainee with leadership experience, I didn't imagine that it'd be as challenging as it was.  The first three to four weeks were agonizing.  I just kept thinking, "If only my students could see me now!"  Their teacher, their case manager, getting blasted for stupid mistakes and momentary lapses in common sense.  I'm sure it was sweet, sweet karma for them.  Sure enough, as I'd been told by a senior Dorm Chief, it did get better.  Come 5th week, our schedules became packed and the days passed much more quickly.  Before we knew it, BEAST was over and done with and we were 7th weekers.  Once we put the EOC (End of Course exam) behind us, it was smooth sailing from there.

I don't think my transition was that abrupt, but slowly I became more sure of myself, as a trainee.  I stopped being fearful of approaching MTIs - I even welcomed interactions with many of them.  No longer was I being hounded by some of the intimidating instructors, who were busy with the younger female flights.  Speaking to my own MTI casually and in an informal manner became status quo for me, long before my other flight members.  I jokingly referred to myself as his "flight wife," since I managed the "household" when he was gone, a role with which I am comfortable.

As a Dorm Chief, I was constantly reminded that I am a direct representation of my MTI.  If I'm not on point, if my appearance is not up to standard, if my military bearing isn't up to par, I'm sending the message that my instructor doesn't have control of his flight and/or he doesn't know how to teach.  Never would I want to send that message.  As a teacher, I've spoken of my students' parents by saying, "If you haven't taught your child respect for authority and manners in 16 years, don't expect me to work miracles in 180 days."  While there is still some truth to that statement, I've now seen what can be accomplished in 8.5 weeks.  The outcome of our flight is proof positive that dramatic changes and miracles CAN happen in 180 days, and in an even shorter period of time.

I began evaluating my experience at BMT, by looking at what instructional tools were being used, the teaching styles exemplified, and the results produced.  There's not much difference between being a teacher and a Military Training Instructor, aside from the environment and the amount of time per day invested in each "student."  The same traits and instructional styles I strive for in my classroom were embodied by many of the MTIs I worked with, especially the building of positive rapport.  It may seem inconceivable for the setting, but that was my experience in my flight.  My MTI, SSgt Rodriguez, handled disciplinary issues in house.  He never hastily used formal disciplinary actions, but counseled his trainees.  With the respect that he'd earned in the flight, disappointing him was a far worse punishment than 20/20/20s [20 seconds of push-ups, 20 seconds of flutter kicks, 20 seconds of squat thrusts].  He made you want to improve upon your shortcomings.  As we recited every day in the Airman's Creed, "I will not falter, and I will not fail."

Failure was not an option for me.  I pushed through illness (early stages of bronchitis), fatigue, and pain, in order to accomplish the goal that I'd set out for myself.  I pride myself on the fact that I don't just set goals, I achieve goals and make them a reality.  There were those at home who doubted how serious I was about this new venture in my life, who deemed me "crazy" or questioned my purpose for joining the military.  I knew that when late July rolled around, I'd be standing proud in my blues, and I'd show them what I already knew about my own will and determination.

Stand proud I did, as I marched toward the retreat pad as a Dorm Chief and an Honor Grad.  My PT score was between 90-100 points, my EOC score was a 97/100, and my other inspections and evaluations had been passed with flying colors.  Even so, there's always someone better than you, I'd been taught to believe.  I was shocked to hear my name called out, when they read my name as the Top Honor Graduate for this cycle of trainees.  I hadn't been paying too much attention when they told us how to accept that award, if we were the lucky recipient.  Out of 817 trainees, I came out on top.  How is that possible?  It still seems surreal.  I remember feeling shocked and flabbergasted as I saluted the 737th Training Group Commander and Superintendent, Lt. Col Palmer and CMSgt Williams in front of everyone's families and friends. 

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That's where I stopped writing, before the flight attendant kicked us off our electronics. I have a myriad of great pictures from that day, that I'll try to upload later. I didn't bring my laptop to BMT, just my iPad, so I'm limited in what I can do from here. I have more to share with you later, so thanks for tuning in after my extended absence!

5 comments:

Sarah said...

Erin, you are always awesome in each and every way in almost everything you do. You must be super woman, or maybe mary poppins. :)

Jessica said...

Wow! That was powerful. I can't wait to read more. I'm so glad that you are excelling at what you want to do.

Erin said...

@Sarah - Thanks hon! I would love to be Mary Poppins, especially the lovely singing voice and the house cleaning abilities! ;)

@Jessica - Thanks for the kudos! I wish I could write more, but I don't have internet in my room, so I'm usually having to write things down by hand and then type it up on my iPad. More on the tech school experience later!

Sarah said...

Just a spoon full of sugar! :)

ostranderblog said...

Fantastic job! I read your new post before this ... I can totally relate to the culture shock. It happens many times in the military. Keep your standards high & hold other Soldiers to them. Being a spouse you also have your DH's view, it's interesting to compare. :). Thanks for your well wishes!! I'll be stepping into it full time & full throttle. Like you.. Failure is not an option ;)
JennyO