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.