Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Knights to Bulls

[This was originally written on August 3rd, after I'd arrived at tech school. There are some minor changes, but I'll wait to update those later.]

Day two at tech school - my mission?  To Fly, Fight, and Win the battle against death by PowerPoint.  It's a struggle, let me tell you!  I left Lackland and came to Keesler AFB, which is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, MS.  I'll be here for six weeks, through mid-September, training to become a Personnel Apprentice.

We arrived here on a commercial jet, but flew out of/into an airport on base.  Right off the bat, the differences between BMT and tech school were apparent.  We were fed lunch twice and were offered snacks another two times.  I had THREE candy bars in my possession in a few hours, unheard of!  We were grouped in no particular order, talking to our brother flight freely.

Upon arrival, we stood in formation for quite some time, waiting on our luggage.  I missed my canteen web belt at that point (a BMT requirement), because none of us had been hydrating and we were in a new, hot, and even more humid environment.  We finally got our luggage and separated for briefings in our individual squadrons.

I'm in the 335th TRS/MTF, which includes weather, avionics, personnel, and finance primarily.  There are 63 of us that came in at the same time, 14 of whom are from my flight or my brother flight, so I have a good network of friends.  There are also quite a few from flights 495 and 496, with whom we worked during BEAST.  We are spread out across two dorms.  The dorms are coed, each with three floors, separated into three bays.  The floor bays are segregated by gender, and members of the opposite sex can't go down past a certain point.

We were put in rooms with a student who is further along in their training.  My roommate just graduated and is awaiting orders to her next duty station.  Our room has two separate sinks, a small shower and toilet, two "wall lockers" (walk-in closets with a dresser inside), two dressers, two desks, a micro fridge, a bunk bed, and a single bed.  It's very much a college dorm, and that's the feel of this experience so far.  As some one referred to it, it's the "University of Keesler," except that we're all in uniform.

We're currently IP students (in-processing), so we're in blues this entire week.  After this week, we only wear blues on Monday and wear ABUs with our sleeves cuffed.  We are required to carry a jacket at all times (yes, the trench coat with our blues!), but at least we can stuff them in our backpacks.  The appearance standards are slightly more relaxed, so I don't have to use AS much gel in my hair.

There are two phases of training: ITP (in transition phase) and ATP (advanced training phase).  You have to pass two open ranks inspections (appearance) and two room inspections in order to get to ATP.  ATP students get to wear civilian clothes outside of the dorm after working hours (I can ONLY wear them in my dorm), have no curfew on the weekend (mine is 2400), and can go off base (I can't).

The chose hall definitely reminds me of college.  We can stay there as long as we want, we sit in booths, we can talk/eat in groups of mixed gender, we can eat as much as we want, even taking food to go! I now understand why they say tech schoolers put on weight, between the chow hall (unlimited dessert and an ice cream bar!) and the mini-fridge in the rooms.  They actually encourage us to bring snacks to class, to keep us awake.  I intend to start going to the gym, but I want to get settled first and learn the routines.

Other freedoms include the downtime that we have.  Our duty day ends at 1630 and our curfew is 2200, so there's time to access base facilities, eat dinner, and participate in other activities (and study, of course).  The curfew ensures that you're in the room, but you can be up as long as you want.  I've been trying to catch up on sleep, but I've been up late setting up my dorm.

I ventured out to the main BX yesterday, and was reminded of how quickly cleaning supplies and basic needs add up.  My room is in need of a good deep cleaning, and I'm already missing Dust Down and Deep Details!  You can imagine what my plans are for the weekend.  My roommate is nice, but she's not as meticulous as I am.

Speaking of the weekend, Keesler has "Down Fridays."  Every other Friday we're released early, so it essentially becomes a three day weekend.  This Friday is one of them, and I'm eager to rest up and set myself up for the coming week.  

Internet can be pricey around here, so I'm probably going to limit my usage to the free wifi areas, especially since I'm only here for six weeks.  Hopefully I can use my free time for hitting the gym or volunteering (which they promote).  The local USO is an option for me that I plan to investigate.

DH was shocked/appalled to hear that one of the community centers here hosts a [dancing] club here on the weekends, complete with two full service bars.  I remember him telling me about a bar for the Airmen on base in Korea, so I don't know why he's so surprised.  :)

Lest you think it's a non-stop party around here, classes and PT start next week.  I hear PT is somewhat of a joke, but they will put you in remedial PT if you don't maintain standards.  You also need to maintain your GPA (calculated through test average) in order to remain in certain student leader positions.

Speaking of student leaders, there are a few positions (bay chief, floor chief, etc) available and they wear differently colored ropes on their arm/shoulder.  We don't have MTIs anymore, just MTLs (Military Training Leaders) that we see on a limited basis throughout the day.  I came back from a bathroom break to find that due to my age and rank, I was made a class leader yesterday.  Doh!  I'm in charge of taking accountability, along with a member of my brother flight [only for the week].  I don't think I'm going to shoot for a student leader position, after hearing that personnelists are here for two short of a time period to advance much.  I did talk to a representative of the Drum and Bugle Corps today, so we'll see where that goes.

Overall, I'm optimistic about this new phase of training.  It IS a culture shock, and I'm leery of spending too much money (a common issue), but I'm hoping to find other ways to pass the time.  I have a good group of friends here, and I'm thankful for that.  My game plan is to clean and do laundry tonight, after a commissary run with my wingmen who couldn't go yesterday.  

One interesting thing to note is the significance of rank at tech school.  At BMT we were being paid at the grade we'd come out as, but we were all regarded as AB/E-1 while we were there.  Here they require that you're an A1C in order to be an Airman Leader, as well as to march SMUs (small groups of 10 airmen).  It's largely the Guardsmen and Reservists that have rank out here, although some of the active duty Airmen do as well.

Happy trails, friends, and I'll be sure to tell you about school in my next post!

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!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Happy 4th Anniversary!


Today is the 4th wedding anniversary of DH and I.  It's funny how things come full circle.  When we decided to get married, he was about to leave for Army basic training.  I was back in California, getting everything prepared and ready for my journey to Fort Leonard Wood, MO.  I would be driving out there with my father-in-law, to see and marry my fiance for the first time in ten weeks.

It was a hot, sweaty day, and DH was/is none too pleased to be in his Class As.  I was set on having him in his uniform though, and he obliged me.  It was the second wedding for both of us, so it was a very small, intimate affair.  The only people there were our fathers, my dad's wife, and his battle buddy.  I can't imagine doing it any other way.  Under that gazebo, just my husband and I, we were able to focus our attention on what really mattered - how much we loved each other and how much we wanted to make that commitment to one another.  There was no big wedding party, no crazy extended family, no drama, nothing to detract from the real purpose and meaning of the day.


We've only been able to spend one anniversary together, our second one, but we don't throw ourselves pity parties because we know that we have a lifetime to spend together.  Luckily, I'll be in between BMT and tech school for this anniversary, so I should be able to call him.

The video above is one of my favorite childhood memories.  Unfortunately, the ceremony scene isn't included and I can't find it anywhere on YouTube.  If you've seen that part and heard the song, you know what I'm talking about.  :)

DH, I love you, plain and simple.  We've been together for six years now, and even on our worst days, I know that we're better together.  We've endured both of our enlistments, a unaccompanied tour to Korea, an Afghan deployment, two cross-country moves, financial highs and lows, and dozens of other obstacles that have faded with time.  Together, I know we can do anything.  I love you and thank you for the woman you have helped me become.  You probably never thought of yourself as a teacher, but you have been just that.  Six more weeks and we'll be together again!  <3