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Academy cadets enhance skills at BMT

  • Published
  • By Mike Joseph
  • JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs
After spending the last six weeks working with basic military training instructors, U.S. Air Force Academy cadets left here enthused and anxious to share their learning experience with fellow classmates.

Twenty-six cadets second class took part in the annual Air Education and Training Command Summer Leadership Program to develop their leadership skills, learn enhanced teaching methods and develop a greater understanding of the Air Force enlisted corps through immersion in the BMT training process.

The cadets arrived in San Antonio May 29 with many expectations, ideas and goals in mind.

"This program wasn't exactly what I thought it would be," said Cadet 2nd Class Paul Yang, who helped lead the cadet flight over the six weeks.

"I thought we would be following military training instructors around on a day-to-day basis, seeing what they do. Very shortly after we got here, we realized it's not that. There's a lot more to it."

"I really came down here to fulfill three different goals and I feel all of them have been satisfied," said Cadet 2nd Class Ashley Olson.

"I wanted to gain confidence as a leader, to get that set of military skills down pat and make sure that I was the best at setting the standard for the people that are following me. Working with these extremely professional MTIs, they held me accountable, they taught me and mentored me. Now I feel that I can bring these skills back and be an example to those I will be leading."

For Cadet 2nd Class Jason Hoist, he saw this training as an opportunity to broaden his perspective as a younger member of his class.

"When I graduate, I'll be a 21-year-old fresh-faced second lieutenant and I know I will face some issues simply from a lack of experience and age," Hoist said.

"Coming down here I wanted to see what the enlisted corps goes through, what they do for eight weeks and how it differs from our experience as cadets so that when I'm a leader, when I'm a second lieutenant and for the rest of my career, I can have somewhat of a connection that maybe other officers won't have."

According to the cadets, many of them had no idea what the enlisted corps go through prior to this training.

"We really gained a lot because as cadets we have zero knowledge of BMT prior to when we come down here," said Cadet 2nd Class Monica Kestermann .

"While we're down here trying to lead, we're also absorbing as much as we can. We're like sponges and we're growing. We tried to learn from BMT and implement it at the same time."

Working alongside MTIs, who were in training to become training instructors for future MTIs, the cadets taught courses, led PT, worked on drill and ceremony and made corrections with the basic trainees.

"The overall goal of the program was to learn from the MTIs, learn how to professionally train and see the intent behind proper training," Yang said.

"We took the same classes the MTI students take before they become certified. We had to teach classes, drill classes, be mentors, make the proper corrections and check trainees off on our forms. It was a lot of work."

Making corrections proved to be more challenging than some of the cadets thought.

"At least for me, I never really liked or enjoyed making corrections on other people," said Cadet 2nd Class Keith Garlow.

"I heard the trainees talk about their children, their lives, their careers and their degrees. They were definitely older than me and making corrections (on them) felt kind of crazy. However, working with my MTI, he helped me realize that corrections are part of it. Even though they have lived a life outside of here, they haven't had the same military experiences that the cadets, the instructors or anyone who has been in the military. We have to build that for them, make sure they perform to whatever standard is set."

The biggest takeaway for the cadets was their exposure to NCOs and the enlisted corps.

"Being with trainees every single day has been exceptional," Hoist said.

"Also, the NCOs here are absolutely outstanding are because they truly lead the Air Force. We hear at the Academy that the NCOs are the backbone of the Air Force but it's really difficult to see because it seems there are so few there. Being here, interacting with them every single day, being attached to one every single day, seeing their professionalism and seeing how they interact with the trainees, how they interact with the officers, how they interact with each other, has been absolutely great. That's been one of the best things I can say I've gotten out of the program."

Olson agreed.

"At my last meeting with our trainees, I told them that this experience has shown me how professional, how dedicated and how amazing our enlisted corps is," said Olson.

"Not that I didn't think they were before, but interacting with them every day gave me a first-hand experience. I'm just so excited to bring that back to the Academy, to apply everything I do in making myself a better leader so that when I'm out in the field, I can serve them better.

That's what we're doing; preparing to be leaders and now I think I have extra motivation. Everything I do to prepare in the next two years won't be just for me. I'm preparing myself to work as hard as I can for them [the enlisted corps]. Ultimately that's going to be our job as second lieutenants."

Garlow explained that being around hisMTI mentor, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Anger, taught him a lot about what motivates NCOs and MTIs across the Air Force every day.

"When I got here and saw the kind of work hours that Anger worked I asked myself 'Why would someone subject themselves to that? Is that just the need of the Air Force?'
But after going through the six weeks here, I realized how rewarding it is to see civilians turned into Airmen," Garlow said.

"It makes you want to work longer and harder to make them the best Airmen they can be. It's an amazing experience to see people grow that much in a short period of time."

Next summer, these cadets will all serve in the basic cadet training cadre for the incoming class of 2019 and they hope to apply the skills learned at BMT.

"I wish I could be a part of this year's basic cadet training but instead I'll have to wait a year," Garlow said.

"I'm bummed about that. I want to go out and have my own flight to bond with, like Anger did, and prove to myself I was able to take something back from BMT."

The experience with the MTIs had a deep impact on the cadets and like Garlow they are all eager to apply those skills next summer.

"We learned to train professionally and the MTIs we followed are some of the best in the Air Force," Olson said.

"The two MTIs I worked closely with set a great example for me as a professional military member, and as a leader, with the ways they dealt with people and how they handled certain situations. Ultimately, when we go back to the Academy, we'll be the ones in charge [of training new cadets] and we'll be making all the calls. To see how our MTIs handled different situations first hand and being able to learn directly from their example are things you can't really learn in a classroom."

Many of the cadets felt that they gained valuable perspective and leadership skills and look forward to applying them at the Academy and into the future.

"To see what the enlisted corps goes through and the foundation built down here at BMT is really good to know so when we go out there we understand where the heartbeat of the enlisted corps is," Kestermann said.

"As far as leadership goes for cadets, this is one of the most rewarding experiences."

Yang found a lot of value in seeing the connection between BMT and the Academy's training programs.

"USAFA came into existence after BMT and a lot of the training and a lot of the ways training is tailored at the Academy is based off the BMT model," Yang said.

"I love the connection and to have the cadets come down here and see it is firsthand is extremely, extremely important. I wish it was something that every cadet could see but obviously that's not realistic. Hopefully those of us who had this opportunity can benefit and point the Academy's training toward the right direction, keeping things professional and add on to the good things that happen already."

The cadets headed back to Colorado Springs, Colo., July 12 after manning key positions in the July 11 Air Force Basic Military Training graduation parade. Their participation in the parade was a first for the program and had a deep impact on the cadets.

"This is the first time as cadets, before we become second lieutenants, that we are entrusted with a flight of Airmen and to have it be on such a special day for them and their families meant so much," said Kestermann reflecting on the moments that stood out the most over the six weeks.

"They got to join the world's greatest Air Force that day and we got to lead them."

For one of the cadets it was his second time at BMT graduation. Yang graduated from BMT in 2010 as a young Airman fresh out of high school.

"I'm not very tall so at my graduation, I was just another trainee in the back of eight flights," Yang said.

In 2012, Yang was accepted into the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development, or LEAD, program that allows qualified Airmen the opportunity to commission through the Academy.

"This time to be in charge of the parade and see cadets in charge of parade positions, I'm like 'wow.' Marching down the bomb run is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For most of the trainees that graduate, it's a very pivotal point in their careers.

For these cadets, leading the BMT parade was a once in a lifetime opportunity but Yang said, though, that they all knew who the parade was really about.

"One of the military drill and ceremony instructors reiterated to us one day after parade practice its importance and significance, why it's so important for us to understand that parade is not for us, it's for them," said Yang

"It's their show and we were humbled to be a part of it."