BMT commander retires, reflects on experience
Col. Deborah Liddick, 737th Training Group commander, pictured here June 6, 2013, oversaw her final Air Force Basic Military Training graduation and parade June 6 as the BMT senior leader. Following a BMT change of command ceremony June 9, Liddick retired after 25 years in the Air Force.
Posted 6/11/2014 Updated 6/13/2014
by Mike Joseph
JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs
6/11/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Friday's Air Force Basic Military Training graduation and parade will no doubt be special for the BMT senior leader.
It will be the last BMT graduation and parade for Col. Deborah Liddick as the 737th Training Group commander before Col. Michele C. Edmondson assumes command of the group during a ceremony Monday morning.
It also means the countdown has begun to bring Liddick's 25-year Air Force careered dedicated service to the Air Force to closure. It will conclude Monday with her retirement ceremony following the BMT change of command.
Liddick said it felt like only yesterday that she came into the Air Force as a second lieutenant (March 25, 1989).
"It's been a great 25 years," she said. "I always tell people find something special about every assignment. Not every assignment is going to be perfect, but find one thing and then you can look back and say, 'wow, I had a great career.' It's goes by fast."
Liddick summed up her time commanding BMT with words like rewarding, challenging and proud.
"At times it has been challenging, but on top of that it's been very rewarding," she said. "I wouldn't change a thing about the last 21 months. I'm very proud about what we've accomplished.
"I thought when I came here it would be like my previous group job (commanding the 56th Maintenance Group at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., the largest maintenance group in the Air Force), but we had to implement significant changes here," Liddick said. "Organizational change is pretty difficult anywhere and that's why I'm proud as I leave here: BMT is in a much better place."
When Liddick took command of the Air Force's largest training group in September 2012, BMT was dealing with sexual assault charges, subsequent investigations and courts martials involving multiple basic military training instructors.
Following an independent Air Force investigation, Air Education and Training Command recommended 46 program and organizational changes be implemented into BMT for a safer and more productive training environment.
"The trainees have a safe training environment and are being properly trained," Liddick said. "Our MTIs do a great job of making the trainees understand and live by the Air Force Core Values.
"How we treat our Airmen extends all the way from General Welsh (Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff): With dignity and respect. It starts right here in BMT. In the end, we are a better organization because of all those changes."
Liddick said watching first-hand how the MTIs, NCOs and senior NCOs transform civilians into Airmen have made her job as BMT commander the most rewarding of her career.
"I see what our MTIs produce every week over an eight-week period," she said. "They take these civilians who come into training who can barely march, often with no military background, and develop them into really motivated Airmen.
"I see these Airmen graduate on Fridays and how proud their families are. These Airmen seem like they stand about two inches taller in the eighth week when they graduate. I see the final product and I know it doesn't happen on its own."
She cited extraordinary professional and tireless efforts of the entire BMT team, from the best of the best NCOs and senior NCOs, to extremely committed military and civilian leaders throughout.
"There are so many people in this group that make this machine move," Liddick said. "They are so dedicated and they make a difference every day. I'm certainly going to miss it."
When asked what footprints she would leave on BMT, the commander quickly cited two.
"When I first started here, I was coming in at 4:45 a.m. for PT," she said. "I kept asking why 4:45 and nobody could give me a really good answer. Anytime the clock says 3 anything in the morning, whether it's to get up or go to bed, that's not good.
"I called my counterparts at the Army, Navy and Marines to see what time they started. The Army and Marines started at 5:30 a.m., the Navy at 5:45 or 6. We changed ours to 5:45 a.m. last December by modifying the schedule. It's a better quality of life for our MTIs and probably for their spouses."
The other change involved BMT parade. The 737th TRG Drum and Bugle Corps members never marched down the bomb run during their graduation parade.
However, in response to a number of comment sheets on the issue, the flight does now.
"The MTIs really talk up about walking down the bomb run at graduation during training," Liddick said. "It's like the Super Bowl of BMT, marching down the bomb run and doing eyes right. I asked why the band didn't and then we figured it out. Now every Friday the band marches down the bomb run. It's a beautiful sight and I'm proud of that."
Liddick said it was a personal decision to retire so she could spend more time with her husband of 14 years. While BMT commander, they only saw each other about every three months because of his work requirements.
"We built a house in South Dakota in 2011 and we've been dreaming about living up there and enjoying our life together," she said. "I made this decision last summer. It was difficult at first because I knew I'd be leaving the Air Force.
"You have to make those decisions in life and I thought it was the right time. The Air Force has been the experience of a lifetime and my current job is so unique, there's no other like it in the Air Force. What an honor it's been to command BMT."