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From sun up to lights out – A day in the life at a BMT training squadron

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lynsie Nichols
  • JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs
The morning is silent, but there's a sense of anticipation in the air as military training instructors from the 320th Training Squadron here prepare to meet their new batch of trainees.

Finally, the wait is over as a bus driver pulls up with new Air Force recruits and opens the door of the bus -- it's go time.

"Get off the bus! Move it! Move it!" a military training instructor yelled in the direction of the recruits.

It is in this moment that a trainee ponders what they've gotten themselves into. It is also in this moment that the MTIs smile to themselves because they know they are going to change this person's life for the better and mold them into a sharp and disciplined Airman.

"We're replenishing today's Air Force. It's monumental changing these trainees into Airmen," said Master Sgt. Kevin Pendleton, 320th TRS MTI. "These civilians are committing themselves to something bigger than what they've been doing.
They are giving themselves to a bigger picture."

From the moment the trainees arrive that first day of zero week until lights out, their schedule is jam packed. They are quickly escorted upstairs to their dorms where they are given a briefing about what to expect, taught their reporting statements and assigned beds.

"We like to give them a bigger picture of what is going to be in store for them," Pendleton said.

After the initial briefing, the trainees are told to report downstairs
and form up for breakfast.

Their MTI walks up and down the rows of trainees correcting their form, strongly encouraging them to stand up straight, stop moving around and cup their hands properly.

Upon satisfaction, the MTI calls upon a volunteer to be the chow runner. This trainee enters the dining facility and notifies instructors at the instructors' table that his flight is ready to enter the dining facility.

One trainee shot up his hand in the air and volunteered -- a choice he quickly learned to regret when realizing the job entails walking past several MTIs near the infamous "snake pit," the table where all of the instructors are seated for lunch.

"Sir, Trainee Jones reports as ordered, Flight 369 is prepared to enter from the West side," the newly appointed chow runner reports.

"Where are they going, trainee? You never told me, I have no idea where they are going!," said the MTI.

"Sir, Trainee Jones reports as ordered, Flight 369 is prepared to enter the dining facility from the West Side," the chow runner reports again.

"Bring them in," said the MTI.

The chow runner quickly returns to his flight to let them know they may enter one element at a time.

Inside the chow hall, controlled chaos ensues. Trainees nervously grab their trays and utensils, keeping their heads down and both hands on their tray while side-stepping down the line -- only speaking to either accept or decline food from the servers. Waiting around the corner are several MTIs who ensure customs and courtesies are properly upheld by the trainees.

Once a trainee has their tray he or she must then navigate to their proper table, but not before answering a few questions from the ever-curious MTIs awaiting him or her at the end of the line.

After breakfast, they are off to the next location. Because of the demanding schedules, MTIs must ensure timeliness in the trainees from day one, a lesson they hope will stay with them throughout their career.

"Trying to get a flight of 52 to 60 individuals with different personalities and trying to get everyone on the same page in a timely manner is one of the hardest things," Pendleton said. As an career aircraft armament systems specialist, Pendleton said his previous Air Force experiences prepared him to be an MTI. Working with intricate systems, aircrews relied on him to ensure their safety in carrying out the mission.

"Everything has attention to detail in the job I had and it has helped me motivate the trainees to pay attention to detail," he said. "The attention to detail they have for the tasks we have them do will prepare them for the Air Force."

Next, trainees line up shoulder to shoulder, nervously awaiting their fate in the barber's chair. Quickly, they are called up and just as quickly sent back outside to wait for the rest of their flight members.

Once the entire flight has matching buzz cuts, it is time to march back to the squadron and form up for lunch. During this time, Master Sgt. Pauline Hunter, 320th TRS MTI, arrives to relieve Pendleton and take on the late afternoon and evening portions of flight processing.

After lunch, the flight is formed up and ready to march to clothing issue where they will receive their uniforms. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the sky opens up and rain pours down.

"Potential for lightning within five nautical miles," a voice blares from speakers throughout the building.

Potential is not something that slows this flight down. Hunter instructs them to put their rain parkas on and prepare to face the heavy rains. Thirty minutes later, they arrive at clothing issue. Hunter has her flight form up.

"Who needs running shoes?" she asked.

A few trainees raise their hands and she has them step outside the flight and form two separate lines. Already exhausted from what likely feels like the longest day ever, two trainees, who appear to be falling asleep, miss Hunter's instructions to follow Pendleton across the street to the shoe store.

"Excuse me! Do you need running shoes?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," they replied in unison.

"Then get over there with the rest of your flight and get them," she said. It is at this moment they realize their mistake in letting their group leave without them as they quickly hurry to catch up.

While the remainder of the flight waits for them to return, Hunter instructs everyone to pull out study material.

Hunter has been in the Air Force for more than 17 years and volunteered to be an MTI.

"I've been a senior NCO for three years and I think that everything I've dealt with, as far as leadership, has prepared me to be an MTI," Hunter said.

But Hunter said she still faces challenges.

"The hardest thing is finding the balance between work and home," she said. "Finding time for my family and dedicating my time sufficiently to the trainees is a challenge."

Once the flight members return from purchasing running shoes and rejoin other flight members they are ushered in through the doors of clothing issue, handed a green duffle bag and told to grab two of everything in their size bin.

Immediately following, the trainees are told to enter a room where they receive a body scan that determines the size of uniform to be issued. After receiving uniforms, trainees are fitted for boots.

During the entire process, the trainees are moving quickly, packing their duplicate items along with their civilian clothes in their bags. The flight now has matching uniforms and is one step closer to looking like future Airmen.

The sun comes out for the flight's return to the dormitory.

Once at the squadron, they're instructed to bring their items upstairs, leave them on their beds and report back downstairs to march next door to the mini mall to purchase essential items.

The trainees have approximately 45 minutes to navigate the tiny store and collect all the items on a list they had received earlier that morning. Throughout the store, there are many temptations for the new trainees, from candy to electronics -- items that are off limits.

"The main thing I want to teach my flight is discipline and integrity," Hunter said. "If you can do the right thing when no one is looking, then you'll be good to go."

After their quick trip to the mini mall, the flight is headed back to their squadron for dinner.

Dinner is a much quieter, more relaxed tempo for these trainees that have been on the go all day. Once they are finished, they are sent back to their dorms where they learn how to properly put away their uniform items and change into their physical fitness uniforms for the evening.

Pendleton feels that being an MTI is an extremely rewarding job.

"Seeing civilians turned into Airmen and watching that change is pretty rewarding," he said. "It is changing my life to see what I help put into the Air Force, these are individuals I would like to be next to when I go back to the operational field."

"This experience has changed me because I see a different perspective of how an Airman starts off," Hunter said. "I have a deep respect for their courage and know that they don't know a lot about the Air Force when they come here and we get to teach them."

The mission of the 320th Training Squadron is to provide world-class military leadership and training necessary to transform recruits into highly motivated Airmen possessing the foundational warrior attitudes, knowledge, skills and abilities to sustain the world's greatest Air Force.