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Command chief impressed with Lackland pride

MacDill AFB, Fla. -- My wife Jinnae held the phone without saying a word and simply let me ramble on and on with endless excitement like a small child calling his grandparents on a Christmas morning to describe every toy he'd gotten and how they all work. You see, I was calling her from my lodging room at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where I had just been blessed with the opportunity to speak to the Air Force's newest airmen during the culminating ceremony of Warrior Week.

It was without a doubt the most humbling experience in my career. I am fortunate to have a commander with enough vision and purpose to send myself and four of the Air Force's finest first sergeants to Lackland for a behind-the-scenes look at the basic military training environment. I am here to tell you: No one comes close!

From the minute we entered the gates, the air of professionalism and dedication consumed us. There was a sense of pride and devotion in every training instructor, support person and civilian we encountered, and they were all happy to show off their "product."

Our protocol representative was a super sharp NCO from Dawson, Ga., Tech. Sgt. Darrell Harris, and he epitomized the image of what we need our new trainees to see upon entering BMT. He had a razor-sharp uniform, deep commanding voice and a love for the Air Force words can't explain.

Everywhere he took us, you could see the pride in his eyes as he explained in detail every aspect of basic military training. We started our once-in-a-lifetime trip by witnessing the arrival of new trainees to the BMT reception center. Still in civilian clothes, they were given their first orders, and I think they all realized their worlds were truly about to change. The next day, we received in-depth briefings and tours of the entire BMT process. First was a "life according to the chief" chat with Chief Master Sgt. Billy Blackburn, superintendent of the 737th BMT Group. The chief assured us what we would see during our visit was not a dog-and-pony show, emphasizing the dedication of the instructor corps, hard work and sweat expended by the trainees and the vision of the officers are everyday occurrences in the BMT world. The chief's words came to light as we walked through the Warrior Week site and saw firsthand just how hard the young trainees were working and, more than that, the leadership and compassion of the instructors. Every trainee we interacted with displayed the discipline and bearing we strive to see in all members of our profession. They were being challenged in every aspect of BMT, and they were succeeding. I can only attribute that to one thing, outstanding leaders who truly care about the trainee's success. It made me wonder what we're doing for these airmen when they reach the operational Air Force. As I shared dinner in a tent with five of our new airmen, I was astounded to hear just how much they enjoyed the challenges and hard work required of them in order to become a part of the USAF. The airmen really enjoy working as a team and having to sacrifice in order to attain their right of passage into the USAF. As hard as it may be for you to believe, you'll just have to trust me when I say they are working harder in BMT and it requires more to become an airman than when I joined over 20 years ago.

Consider these tidbits: BMT is a solid six days a week, compared with five days and two hours of drill on Saturday when I came in. There is no use of tobacco products while in BMT - none! Physical conditioning is really physical now, and failure to complete the PC requirements means a ticket back home. There is no longer a casual flight, where airmen hang out while awaiting disposition, but instead there is the 319th Transition Squadron, complete with training instructors and a commander devoted to instilling the same sense of discipline as any operational training squadron. Not only have the standards for BMT gotten higher, but we've become really smart at how we go about the task of training America's Air Force. Now we have airmen in "zero-week," those few days in the abyss for new trainees awaiting the start of the next training cycle. Guess what: they're still learning BMT tasks and becoming acclimated to their profession.

Gone are the days of your MTI throwing a shirt at you during initial clothing issue, and if it fit he'd throw two more your way. Now we have professional tailors and quality control experts on site, measuring and marking uniforms for alteration to provide a true professional look.

Remember those old canvas tennis shoes and white linen shorts we were issued for PC? Color them gone, replaced by state-of-the-art New Balance running shoes and neat Air Force jersey shirts and shorts. It is hard to feel good about yourself in those old canvas shoes. I could literally go on forever about how on target our BMT is today, but there just isn't enough space; you must see it for yourself. I will share one last highlight with you.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing behind a podium looking into the eyes of 700 or so of the Air Force's newest airmen. As you finish speaking, you walk down to shake their hands and welcome them into the USAF.

Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be An American" is playing in the background, the sun is glaring down, and the airmen are drenched in sweat and streaming tears cover their faces. They cannot hold back the emotion of completing Warrior Week. It was hard, it was long, it was rewarding and now they are airmen in the USAF. You are a part of it, the most humbling thing you will ever experience. I just experienced that.

I saw the pride in the faces of tomorrow's Air Force. I heard airmen in their fifth week of training sing the Air Force song from memory. I saw them cry, and I cried with them. Mine eyes have seen the glory, and No one comes close!

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