Reminiscing On My Basic Military Training Days, 13 Years Later

Reminiscing On My Basic Military Training Days, 13 Years Later

It has been 13 years since my enlistment but it feels like yesterday.

yahairas
yahairas
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It is that time of year again, high school seniors are preparing for graduation and making the final decisions on what their next step is going to be. Whether it is pursuing higher education, technical skills or maybe just going wherever the wind takes them, students have a choice to make soon. During this period, students will attend college fairs and job fairs.

This is the time when military branches will present another option for these young people who have yet to make a concrete decision, and the benefits usually far outweigh the negatives.

Thirteen years ago, I found myself in that situation of not knowing exactly what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. I let my college applications back up. I had a multitude of career goals. There are so many great things to try out with our lives ahead of us, so why are we just limited to choosing just one?

Joining the military was far from my mind at the time. Until one of my classmates brought the option up to me. He already had an endgame in mind. He wanted to join the Air Force and eventually become a pilot. I shrugged my shoulders at the suggestion and said I thought about it. Not long after, I found myself in the Air Force recruiter's office speaking with a very enthusiastic "face of the Air Force."

Fast forward to the end of my senior year and I found myself committing to joining the United States Air Force, entering the Delayed Enlisted Program (DEP) until my Basic Military Training (BMT) date on September 25, 2007, one day after my 18th birthday. I saw myself finishing 20 years and with a wealth of knowledge and experience courtesy of my future military background.

The first step to my 20-year goal was BMT.

I flew into San Antonio, Texas and was immediately exposed to the reality of training. Unlike the other military branches, BMT consisted of six and a half weeks with technical training afterward. When you think about it, six and a half weeks is not a very long time but for a person who has never been apart from their family, it felt like an eternity. The first day of BMT was a blur.

This was my first taste of what the rest of the Air Force would consist of. The hundreds of trainees that raised their right hands and took that oath to protect and serve were all around me, sitting on the floor with our legs crossed. We were trying hard to keep our eyes open while Technical Instructors (TIs) watched us from a distance, waiting for their chance to attack. We were given pamphlets to read that held the knowledge we needed to commit to memory, in preparation for when TIs would ask for that information. If you did not know the answer, you were in for a world of hurt.

The intent of BMT was to basically ready us for the next step: Tech School. Tech School would prove to be more demanding than BMT, hence the name BASIC military training. We are given the basic essentials that will help us level up. BMT introduces us to weapons training, self-aid buddy care, fitness standards, Air Force history, rank structure, responsibility, independence and the chain of command (just to name a few).

It is surprising to find how many people join the military and lack the basic skills of living independently and to deal with the stresses life will eventually throw at you. The TIs will find those weaknesses and exploit them to hopefully break it out of us and make is into better Airmen. On the other end, they would exploit it and make you realize that maybe you just don't have what it takes to be that 1% that serves in the United States Military.

After the hurry up and wait process on the floor, we were sent outside to wait some more. One thing my recruiter told me to do was never volunteer. I did not follow his advice. Blame it on exhaustion or just poor listening skills to just wanting to get into bed, but one of the first questions the TIs asked us if we played an instrument. They didn't specify a type. I was hesitant at first. However, slowly but surely I rose my hand, admitting to having played the piano.

That was how I found myself in Band Flight … with no band knowledge in my repertoire. Of course, with my lack of musical ability, I was assigned the easiest instrument available: the cymbals. We were assigned to our squadrons/flights that we were to call home for the next two months.

The TIs were quick to tell us that half of our flight would wash back or go home by the end of the training. The first night in my bed, you could hear muffled crying from those girls who thought maybe they made a mistake or this was the first time being away from home. Maybe they were never exposed to the in your face yelling that was sure to come. BMT was a rude reality check for a lot of the trainees, but what many people failed to realize at the time, BMT is not the real Air Force. It is just a trial we have to go through in order to make it to our 20-year endgame. It is just that first step to the rest of our lives.

Thinking of my BMT days 13 years later, I realize how easy it was and how I just over-complicated everything back then. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

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Working With People Who Are Dying Teaches You So Much About How To Live

Spending time with hospice patients taught me about the art of dying.

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Death is a difficult subject.

It is addressed differently across cultures, lifestyles, and religions, and it can be difficult to find the right words to say when in the company of someone who is dying. I have spent a lot of time working with hospice patients, and I bore witness to the varying degrees of memory loss and cognitive decline that accompany aging and disease.

The patients I worked with had diverse stories and interests, and although we might have had some trouble understanding each other, we found ways to communicate that transcended any typical conversation.

I especially learned a lot from patients severely affected by dementia.

They spoke in riddles, but their emotions were clearly communicated through their facial expressions and general demeanor, which told a story all on their own.

We would connect through smiles and short phrases, yes or no questions, but more often than not, their minds were in another place. Some patients would repeat the details of the same event, over and over, with varying levels of detail each time.

Others would revert to a child-like state, wondering about their parents, about school, and about family and friends they hadn't seen in a long time.

I often wondered why their minds chose to wander to a certain event or time period and leave them stranded there before the end of their life. Was an emotionally salient event reinforcing itself in their memories?

Was their subconscious trying to reconnect with people from their past? All I could do was agree and follow their lead because the last thing I wanted to do was break their pleasant memory.

I felt honored to be able to spend time with them, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on their final moments, moments that might be better spent with family and loved ones. I didn't know them in their life, so I wondered how they benefited from my presence in their death.

However, after learning that several of the patients I visited didn't have anyone to come to see them, I began to cherish every moment spent, whether it was in laughter or in tears. Several of the patients never remembered me. Each week, I was a new person, and each week they had a different variation of the same story that they needed to tell me.

In a way, it might have made it easier to start fresh every week rather than to grow attached to a person they would soon leave.

Usually, the stories were light-hearted.

They were reliving a memory or experiencing life again as if it were the first time, but as the end draws nearer, a drastic shift in mood and demeanor is evident.

A patient who was once friendly and jolly can quickly become quiet, reflective, and despondent. I've seen patients break down and cry, not because of their current situation, but because they were mourning old ones. These times taught me a lot about how to be just what that person needs towards the end of their life.

I didn't need to understand why they were upset or what they wanted to say.

The somber tone and tired eyes let me know that what they had to say was important and worth hearing. What mattered most is that someone who cared was there to hear it.

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8 Songs To Remind You What Memorial Day Is About

While it is a day to celebrate our freedom, we must remember all of those who gave their lives for the freedoms we often take for granted.

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Many people fail to realize the true importance and the difference between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. While both are days to celebrate the freedoms our soldiers have earned for us, Memorial Day is about honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to give us the many privileges we have today. Here are a few songs to honor our fallen soldiers this Memorial Day.

'American Soldier' by Toby Keith, 2003

"I don't wanna die for you/ But if dying's asked of me/ I will bear that cross with honor/ 'Cause freedom don't come free"

This song will always be my go-to song when it comes to military songs. Toby Keith perfectly captures the feelings of every soldier when they go off to war- leaving behind their families and facing the dangers head on knowing full well that they may not come home. Countless soldiers have and will continue to give their lives protecting our country and this song is a reminder of everything soldiers sacrifice in their line of duty.

'Some Gave All' by Billy Ray Cyrus, 1992

"Some stood through for the red, white, and blue/ And some had to fall"

Billy Ray Cyrus perfectly put into words the sacrifices made by soldiers who go to war to protect our country. Everybody gives some portion of themselves in battle and no soldier comes back from overseas the same. However, there are many forgotten soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and everything it stands for and we must remember that. This ballad gives a strong message that should be echoing around the country this Memorial Day.

'If You're Reading This' by Tim McGraw, 2007

"I'm layin down my gun/ Hanging up my boots/ Tell dad I don't regret that I followed in his shoes"

Never will I not cry when I listen to this song. Written in the point of view of a fallen soldier, Tim McGraw's ballad shows just everything a soldier says goodbye to when he lays down his life. The lyrics talk to the soldiers parents, telling them not to be sad and that his soul is home, as well as his wife and unborn daughter to whom he wishes the best for. Always one of the songs that hits close to home.

'Arlington' by Trace Adkins, 2005

"And every time I hear twenty-one guns/ I know they brought another hero home to us"

Yet another tearjerker. This song centers around a soldier who lost his life in battle and was buried in Arlington, the national military cemetery, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. The soldier reminiscences on the way his parents cried presented with his flag, and the way he and his dad searched for his grandfather's grave here when they were kids. His father told him that this was the sacrifice of freedom, and the subject of the song is proud that he is one of the "chosen ones."

'Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue' by Toby Keith, 2002

"My daddy served in the Army/ Where he lost his right eye/ But he flew a flag out in our yard/ 'Till the day that he died"

I adore this song because not only does it honor our fallen soldiers, but it's the upbeat chorus and prideful lyrics could instill a sense of patriotism in even the most unpatriotic. It talks about how the USA will never fail to retaliate when someone threatens our peace and security, as we've done countless times.

In the words of Toby Keith, "we'll put a boot in your ass/ it's the American way."

'Travelin' Soldier' by Dixie Chicks, 2003

"Don't worry but I won't be able to write for a while"

This song sits really close to home for me because it talks about a young high school girl who falls in love with a newly enlisted soldier, and how their love continues to grow even when he's overseas. Everybody tells her that she's too young to be waiting around for a soldier but she holds on hope anyways, even when his letters stop coming. In the bridge of the song, we find out that the soldier dies in the war in Vietnam and her waiting for her soldier to return takes on a much more sad meaning,

'I Drive Your Truck' by Lee Brice, 2012

"Hey, man I'm trying to be tough/ And momma asked me this morning if I'd been by your grave/ But that flag and stone ain't where I feel you anyway"

A newer song yet still a gem, Lee Brice tells how he copes with the loss of his brother. He talks about driving his brother's truck to feel close to him again, using this source of comfort to drown the pain of his loss. He leaves his brother's things in the truck, like his dog tags, cowboy boots, and Go Army shirt, keeping the relics of his brother close after saying goodbye in his own way.

'Just A Dream' by Carrie Underwood, 

"And the guns rang one last shot/ And it felt like a bullet in her heart"

Another song about a dead lover, Carrie Underwood focuses on the fear of lovers and spouses of military personnel feel whenever their loved one is away at war. She talks about a girl, fresh into womanhood preparing to marry her lover before finding out that he died in the war. Her wedding then turns into a funeral as "reality" hits her but then comforts herself by saying the entire scenario is a dream. However, Underwood was able to capture the fear of every military spouse that they could lose their loved one at any given moment.

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