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Building Airmen, one MTL at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Abbey Rieves
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Woosh. A stout, dark-featured sergeant pulls open the gusty doors of the 315th Training Squadron dormitory.

The charge of quarters’ natural pulse drops as the students click their heals together, beckoning to the position of attention.  

Sir, Airman Smith reports as ordered.

Before Tech. Sgt. Derwin Finley can even reach his desk, students are bouncing questions off him like Flubber against the wall.

 When am I starting class? What can I do to get off security hold? Has my security clearance come through?

Though the questions may seem never ending, this Kansas City native knows that future mission success depends on the effort and preparation he puts in today.

 “About three years ago I saw the type of Airman coming to the operational Air Force, and I would ask myself, ‘What are they sending us?’,” said Finley, his eyebrows furrowed. “I had the opportunity to talk to my chief master sergeant at my previous base. He told me, ‘Why don’t you do something about it? There are opportunities where you can be a positive effect to Airmen who come into the Air Force’.”

The air transporter by trade put in a package and was selected as a 315th TRS military training leader. 

While some individuals only observe the change needed, Finley took initiative to be the change for our future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance warriors.

 “We take all opportunities to inform our Airmen and to build our Airmen,” said Finley, who has graduated over 4,200 Airmen. “That way, when our Airmen reach the operational Air Force, they have a well-rounded understanding of what is provided to them, what is afforded to them as far as the opportunities in the Air Force are concerned.”    

Before building and developing can began, Finley starts with creating a professional relationship with his Airmen.

“The best way I found to build professional relationships is to tell my story,” said Finley, who excelled into an assistant flight chief position at the 312th TRS in January. “I tell them the trials and tribulations, what I’ve done and what I’ve seen in deployed environments. It helps establish a rapport with them, so they can see I’m a human being too.”

Once a relationship has been formed, Finley tackles the mentorship part of the mission.

“There are many opportunities to positively mentor our Airmen,” said Finley, who personally spends 10 or more hours each day helping his Airmen. “Whether that’s one-on-one counselling or through the different rope programs.  MTLs take opportunities, sometimes even before and after the duty day, to mentor. We let them know that there is an actual life outside of the training environment. At the end of the day, we are really here to make sure the Airmen are taken care of.”

With sometimes vague off-duty hours, MTL responsibilities continue beyond the walls of the training squadron.

“We establish a bond with the instructors at the schoolhouse too,” said Finley.  “We keep a two-way communication so our Airmen can be constantly informed during their courses.”

Though the workload can be heavy for an MTL, personal gratification is gained vicariously through the Airmen’s success.  

“The best part of my job is graduation day for my Airmen,” said Finley, who offers high-fives and fist bumps at his Airmen’s graduations. “Seeing them from the first day, when they get off the bus from Basic Military Training, with unexpectedness in their eyes. For me, to help mold them and guide them to that major accomplishment, graduation, it’s honestly my best day here.”