A military training leader learns to lead

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kimberly L. Mueller
  • 81st Training Wing

Military training leaders are responsible for helping Airmen learn how to take care of themselves and instill the Air Force core values during their time in technical training. Even in the face of adversity, MTLs stand tall and exemplify the Air Force standards.

Growing up in Guatemala with her grandparents, Tech. Sgt. Victoria Monzon, 81st Training Support Squadron MTL instructor, had a thirst for education but her goal seemed unachievable.

“I have a lot of cousins who don’t know how to read or write because we just never had the opportunity to go to school,” Monzon said. “I came to the United States in 2000 and I didn’t speak any English. I remember going to school and people would talk to me and my answer was always ‘no’ because I didn’t actually know what they were telling me.”

After learning English and graduating high school, Monzon craved something more for herself.

“It’s something that I hadn’t seen in my family,” Monzon said. “We didn’t have resources and the Air Force came to me and offered to pay for my education if I joined.”

At the time, Monzon was a green card holder and could only join the Air Force as services, personnel or supply. With an interest in cooking, Monzon was drawn to services. Monzon was first stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, where she lived for six years and deployed four times.

“I remember coming back from my fourth deployment in December 2013 and I was just unhappy with the job,” Monzon said. “I felt like I was just a number in the Air Force, like I was just going through the day thinking ‘what’s the point?’”

The Air Force started downsizing and with three years remaining in Monzon’s contract she applied for voluntary separation.

“I wanted to get out because I didn’t like it anymore,” Monzon said. “The following week I went into work and opened my email. There was an email that said ‘Congratulations. You were selected to be an MTL’ and that light I saw at the end of the tunnel completely disappeared.”

After taking the MTL course, Monzon felt like she was going to fail. Once she finished the two weeks of training she was assigned to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, where she worked the night shift.

“Our shifts overlapped for two or three hours where I would work with other MTLs, but when they went home it was just me,” Monzon said. “I didn’t get much interaction with people.”

Taking time away from the limited social setting, Monzon spent her holiday break in Guatemala with her family. Upon arrival she discovered her grandfather was on his deathbed.

“When I saw my grandfather he couldn’t do anything for himself,” Monzon said. “He had to be fed. He couldn’t speak. It was like having a child again.”

During the two weeks Monzon had at home, she spent as much time as possible with him.

“On January third I left to come back to work,” Monzon said tearing up. “Two hours after I got home I got the phone call. My grandfather passed away.”

With the news of her grandfather’s passing Monzon still stood strong and carried out her duties in an environment where she felt she had no one to talk to. Despite the hardships, Monzon was confident about her upcoming physical fitness assessment.

“I wasn’t worried,” Monzon said. “I’ve considered myself to be in pretty good shape and all my scores had been excellent.”

Monzon came out of her PT test with her first failing score. After reporting the failure to the flight chief, regardless of Monzon’s previous excellent PT scores, her failure was the only thing in focus to them.

“I didn’t feel like anybody took the time to find out what was really going on in my life,” Monzon said. “I did make it known my grandfather passed away, I’m dealing with personal issues and I don’t have any friends, but I feel like the main focus was that test failure. My enlisted performance report was closing out and the failed test led to a referral EPR.”

The referral EPR prevented Monzon from going to school and marked her ineligible to test for promotion that year.

“I didn’t feel good holding my Airmen accountable for something when I was going through this failure,” Monzon said. “That’s when I finally understood how important our job is and the huge responsibility that we have. It’s not just about showing up to do a job. It’s about taking care of people.”

That newly found sense of purpose prompted Monzon to be the leader she wished she had during her rough patch.

One day, close to graduation, Monzon noticed a Reserve Airman looked ‘a little off’. Monzon stopped the Airman and asked them if there was something wrong.

“The Airman was about to go home in three weeks and she didn’t have a place to stay,” Monzon said. “The Airman’s parents kicked her out of the house and told her ‘you are an adult now and joined the Air Force, so when you get back you have to figure it out yourself.’”

As a reservist, the Airman wouldn’t receive a dorm room once she arrived at her first base. Monzon asked if the Airman had family or friends to stay with, but the Airman didn’t. She would truly be on her own.

“The Airman had been in tech school for four months and she tells me that she doesn’t have any friends,” Monzon said. “We started talking and coming up with different plans for things that we could do.”

Monzon reached out to the Airman’s home unit to try and figure out a plan. While the Airman was in tech school, Monzon gave her what seemed like a silly assignment. Every day until the Airman graduated she had to go up to another Airman and ask them a question about themselves and get to know them.

“She really made it her mission,” Monzon said. “She had a notebook she would carry with her and every day she started off as if this was just an assignment and she would go up to an Airman and ask them about their personal life. In those three weeks this Airman became the most popular Airman in the dorms.”

At the end of the day the Airman was to report to Monzon’s office and tell her about the Airman she spoke with.

“I learned about my Airmen, and when you do little things like that it’s so rewarding,” Monzon said. “When you see an Airman come from basic military training - scared, not knowing how to be adults - then you see them finally graduate and go be an Airman, it’s just very rewarding.”

“It took me a year to finally buy into being an MTL,” she explained. “I remember talking to some people and when they described what an MTL does my first thought was ‘I’m a 4’11 timid female who came from a third-world country, how do you expect me to do that job?’ I’m by no means close to being a perfect leader, but you’re not always going to make the best decisions. That’s how you learn.”

Although Monzon has faced many difficulties during the beginning of her career as an MTL, her experiences made her a better leader.

“Any job in the Air Force can be very stressful when you constantly pour yourself out to your Airmen and give and give, but the end result is truly amazing,” Monzon said. “One of the things that I tell my MTL students is ‘Look at the Airmen who you worked with before you came to this course. If you didn’t like what you saw, this is your opportunity to change the Air Force.’ You have the power to make the Air Force successful and it’s such a humbling opportunity. What other job is going to allow you to do that?”