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Day in the life: MTIs transform civilians into Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Krystal Jeffers
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Public Affairs
A booming voice echoes outside the future home for a flight of basic trainees, "Left... left... left, right, left..."

Occasionally the chant is broken with shouted phrases like, "Get your cover!," "Get your dress!" and "Keep in step!" These barked commands are given to a group of marching trainees by an Airman wearing a blue, wide-brimmed campaign hat; the distinction for a military training instructor.

Every enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force has one thing in common, regardless of their career field or background and that's basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The other commonality is that every trainee remembers their MTIs. Individual experiences may vary, but every trainee is placed in a flight overseen by MTIs. MTIs are responsible for shaping recruits into Warrior Airmen.

"There are a lot of things an Airman will remember of their Air Force career and it will always include their MTI," said Tech. Sgt. Jarmaine Thomas, 331st Training Squadron MTI. "Thirteen years later, I still remember my training instructor and the example he set for me. To this day, I am still looking for my MTI to thank him."

Trainees arrive at basic military training between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and are then organized into flights before a bus transports them to their squadron dormitories. When they step off the bus, recruits are greeted by one of their new MTIs.

Two such groups, Flights 365 and 366, arrived at the 331st TRS May 20 and were met by their flight team chiefs, Tech. Sergeants Jason Kadisak and Edory Robinson. Thomas, who has been an instructor for a year, is Flight 365's second MTI.

Each day has a full schedule that starts at 5 a.m. and ends with lights out at 9 p.m. To cover the schedule, MTIs work 10-hour shifts with a few hours of overlap, creating a team of MTIs responsible for individual flights. The overlap for the MTIs allows for continuity and usually happens around midday.

On day one, the MTIs teach the trainees the basics of drill movements and customs and courtesies. The MTIs also march their flight to various locations to set them up for their time in training. The flight marches to the finance building, where financial experts set up their pay, then on to clothing issue for uniforms and clothing sales for the opportunity to purchase a pair of running shoes and toiletry items. On the first day, male trainees receive their first haircut. Every trainee is assigned a bed and given a tour of the squadron dormitories. Trainees are also allowed to write post cards to send to their families, informing family members that they arrived safely.

Instructors regularly correct trainees throughout the day by elevating their voices.

"There is a lot of yelling because we need to get the point across to the entire flight so everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing," said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Severance, 331st TRS MTI. "Other than that, there is actually a lot of teaching and mentoring."

The days are broken into times for physical training, dorm clean-up, meals and drill and ceremony. There are briefings on topics to include sexual assault and prevention, suicide prevention, coping with stress and the GI Bill. Plus, there are classes on topics like the Uniform Code of Military Justice, custom and courtesies, Air Force history, and dress and appearance. In addition, there is time to perform detail-oriented activities such as rolling socks and folding T-shirts to military standards.

"We are transforming civilians to successful members of the Air Force." said Severance. "We take them and give them the foundation of discipline, instill the core values and teach them the basics (of being an Airman) like following instructions and performing in stressful situations."

The instructors agree that core values aren't something that can be taught.

"I can teach them by the book all day, but if I am not exemplifying it, then I failed them," Thomas said. "The best way of showing integrity and excellence is being the example."

Those beliefs are echoed by his fellow MTIs.

"We don't want you to just know what the core values are," said Severance, who has been an Airman for about 15 years and a MTI for 1 ½. "The trainees need to see me living with integrity and showing excellence and then they will be more likely to do it. A lot of trainees try to be like their instructors."

Each MTI has 7 ½ weeks to complete the transformation from civilian to Airman.

"I like to see the finished product," Robinson said. "I get a civilian on day one and seven weeks later I get to see a completely different person; an Airman in the Air Force who is disciplined and well-trained. I enjoy it."

"I love to see the change in trainees from when they first arrived here in their civilian clothes, big hair, not knowing how to stand still or be quiet, to when they are marching and looking professional 7 ½ weeks later," Severance added. "It is a really good feeling knowing that I helped them get there. I hope that they are better people when they leave here than when they arrived."

When trainees graduate, each MTI hopes that the trainees are on the right path to becoming successful Airmen.

"I want to instill our core values, a sense of purpose and a sense of pride," Thomas said.

Severance added, "I want them to be proud to tell people that they are in the Air Force and proud to wear the uniform."

Many challenges are conquered during the process to transform civilians becoming Airmen and each day is different.

"It is challenging in some ways," Thomas said. "Every day is a different day and we never face the same challenges. One day a trainee has a problem marching and the next day we have an emergency where a family member back home passed away. We have to be able to respond to these incidents and take care of the trainee while ensuring that we keep training the rest."

Training a large group come with its own challenges, most centered around being responsible for a large number of people with a variety of backgrounds and personalities.

"The most challenging thing is tailoring your leadership to 50 different individuals," Severance said. "Not everyone responds the same way; some don't respond to yelling, some do. If a trainee isn't responding, you need to be flexible and change your leadership style to reach every trainee. It's hard to reach everyone every day. You also have to balance mentoring every trainee with taking care of the flight as a whole because spending too much time with one or two could be detrimental to the rest of the flight."

Despite the challenges, the MTIs shared the same sentiment about their work as MTIs.

"I love this job," Severance said. "I love teaching the trainees how to be Airmen and successful members of the Air Force. It has been the best job I have had."

"I have enjoyed my experience so far," Thomas said. "At the beginning I doubted myself. Over time with mentorship and training, I have grown to realize that I am good at this job and the only way for me to maintain a great example for the Airmen is to continue to build myself up as an MTI."

The basic training mission is part of the 37th Training Wing at JBSA-Lackland and is the largest training wing in the United States Air Force. The 37th Training Wing is known as the "Gateway to the Air Force," because as the name implies, all enlisted members in the active Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve all began their careers by completing basic military training.