U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 2nd Class Paul Yang watches two fellow cadets fold the flag during retreat at the basic military training coin ceremony July 10 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. A group of 26 Academy cadets spent six weeks at BMT working with military training instructors as part of the annual Air Education and Training Command Summer Leadership Program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joshua Rodriguez)
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets 2nd Class Monica Kestermann (left) and Paul Yang get in position to lead the July 11 basic military training graduation parade at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joshua Rodriguez)
7/15/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- After spending the last six weeks working with basic military training instructors, U.S. Air Force Academy cadets left Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland enthused and anxious to share their learning experience with fellow classmates.
The 26 cadets in the annual Air Education and Training Command Summer Leadership Program developed leadership skills, learned enhanced teaching methods and a greater understanding of the Air Force enlisted corps, all of which they will bring back to the Academy when they serve as the cadet cadre leading basic cadet training for the class of 2019 next year.
The cadets, part of the Academy's incoming junior class, arrived at JBSA-Lackland May 29 and headed back to Colorado Springs, Colo. Saturday after manning key positions in the July 11 Air Force Basic Military Training graduation parade.
Five cadets sat down to share their experience in BMT before leaving.
How would you describe your experience at BMT?
Cadet 2nd Class Paul Yang: The program wasn't exactly what I thought it would be; it was a lot more. I thought we would follow MTIs around on a day-to-day basis to see what they do. Very shortly after we got here, we realized it's not that. There's a lot more to it. We took the same classes the MTI students take before they become certified. We had to teach classes, drill, be mentors and make the proper corrections. We've learned so, so much.
One of the main purposes of this program is to take what we can from here, absorb all of it and bring it back to the Academy. The exposure we had to the enlisted corps and the day-to-day grind, understanding what the enlisted corps goes through, is huge. I wish it was something that every cadet could see. I hope we can take what we learned here and spread it at the Academy.
Cadet 2nd Class Ashley Olson: I thought the program was absolutely amazing. The extremely professional MTIs I worked with held me accountable; they also taught and mentored me. They set a great example for me as a professional military member and as a leader. How they dealt with people and how they handled certain situations are things you can't really learn from a classroom. You have to be a part of it to learn them. I got a lot out from that and those experiences. This experience has shown me how professional, how dedicated and how amazing our enlisted corps is. Not that I didn't think they were before, but interacting with them every day gave me first-hand experience. I'm excited to bring that back to the Academy.
Cadet 2nd Class Jason Hoist: I had a few expectations for myself and from the program and I feel like most, if not all, were met. I wanted to see what the enlisted corps all go through. I wanted to see what they do for eight weeks and how it differs from us so that when I'm a second lieutenant and for the rest of my career, I can have a connection that maybe other officers won't have. Being with them every single day has been exceptional. Another thing that has been absolutely outstanding were the NCOs. We hear at the Academy that the NCOs are the backbone of the Air Force, but it's really difficult to see because it seems there are so few there. Interacting with them every single day, being attached to one every single day, seeing their professionalism and seeing how they interact with the trainees, how they interact with the officers, how they interact with each other, has been absolutely great.
Cadet 2nd Class Monica Kestermann: We worked very closely with the enlisted corps, both the seasoned NCOs and the new trainees. You see what motivates the new trainees to follow and what NCOs have seen in officers that they like to follow. I really think it's helped our officer development because we see what motivates the enlisted corps and it will ultimately help make us better officers.
As far as leadership goes for cadets, this is one of the most rewarding experiences. As cadets, we had zero knowledge of BMT prior to coming down here, so while we're trying to lead we're also absorbing as much as we can. We're like sponges and we're growing. We tried to learn from BMT and implement it at the same time. So it's a good time management program for us because we have to learn and apply with very short turnover. That's definitely what I've got out of this.
Cadet 2nd Class Keith Garlow: I definitely have a deeper sense of professionalism with what I do and more passion for it. I realized how rewarding it is to see civilians turned into Airmen. It's an amazing experience to see people grow that much in a short period of time.
This program has really made me excited about working basic cadet training. I wish I could do it this coming period but I'll have to wait a year and I'm bummed about that. I want to go out and have my own flight to bond with and prove to myself I was able to take something back from BMT.
Are you in leadership roles with your class?
Kestermann: We're going into that position as juniors within the cadet wing. At the end of our sophomore year, a lot of us were in follower positions, so we developed skills as a follower. We finally get an opportunity to implement what we've learned from serving our leaders. This has definitely broadened that experience because now we have the MTIs to follow and use their leadership style. We put more tools in our toolbox so when we go back and lead the two younger classes, we have those extra skills that are necessary to lead.
What was something that stood out to you?
Kestermann: I think being in the parade was a big honor. This was the first time as cadets, before we become second lieutenants, we are entrusted to be with a flight of Airmen on such a special day for them and their families. They joined the world's greatest Air Force and we got to lead them. That experience, for us, was just phenomenal. I know it's a day in their lives that can never be replaced. I'm sure it will be a day in our lives we won't ever forget by being entrusted to lead them.
Olson: We did feedback questions with the trainees to see what parts of their interaction with us they found the most meaningful. When I talked to mine, they said PT in the morning. We were out there every morning with them. Being able to motivate them was awesome. I think anytime we participated with them, they really enjoyed it.
What was it like walking down the bomb run?
Yang: I'm in a little bit of a unique situation. For me, BMT four years ago was the pivoting point of my life. (He was accepted into the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development, or LEAD, program at the Academy in 2012). Those eight and a half weeks changed my life completely. I'm not very tall, so I was just a random trainee in the back of eight flights when I graduated BMT. Now, to watch and be a cadet in parade leadership roles, I'm like 'wow.' Marching down the bomb run is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For us, as guests, marching in the parade is huge. The trainees are going to remember the cadet who marched them down the bomb run for the rest of their lives.