Air Force heritage takes center stage at FTAC

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The First Term Airmen Center is where Airmen learn the ropes of what it's like in the operational Air Force when they arrive at their first duty station.

The week-long course lasts eight hours a day and introduces Airmen to many different base agencies and leadership.

At first I was leery about FTAC. With only seven other Airmen in my class, I was prepared for a PowerPoint snooze-fest. However, once we met our primary instructor for the week, my fears quickly went away.

Master Sgt. Brian Johns, FTAC instructor, is a motivated man. He's the kind of senior NCO that any young Airman can look up to. Once class started promptly at 7:25 a.m., Johns immediately set out to get to know each one of us. He also presented us with a two-part question: What is our mission, and how do we fit into it with our different jobs?

How do we, as individual Airmen, help complete Keesler's mission? We all had to stop and think-- none of us really knew how to answer it. Sure, we know what our jobs are, but how does a vehicle operator or cardiopulmonary technician fit into Keesler's mission of training the world's greatest Airmen?

With that, he gave us some homework. We had to research the seven Air Force enlisted members who have won the Medal of Honor, and give a short presentation on each one during our final day in class. Being that there was eight of us and only seven recipients, Johns said one person would give a presentation on what he calls the "greatest story in the history of the Air Force," the story of the Doolittle Raiders.

It was an interesting assignment, sure. But why was he having us research these Air Force heroes?

As the week went on, we had briefing after briefing from all the different agencies on base. Everyone from finance to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to Keesler's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention office showed up. The presenters were always full of enthusiasm and genuinely interested in getting to know all of us. Even Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby and Col. Dennis Scarborough, the 81st Training Wing commander and vice commander, stopped by to welcome us to Keesler.

When Johns would have us between briefings, he'd talk about Air Force history and how it's important to us. He brought out this idea of heritage, and how it applies to who we are as an Air Force and what it should mean to us as Airmen. He talked about the Medal of Honor winners we were researching, and the amazing things they did. He gave us history of the base, and helped us realize that we live and work in some of the same places these remarkable Airmen once trained.

That's when I really started to realize what Johns meant by his question at the beginning of the course. Our heritage is a part of our everyday lives here. Whether we're driving on Chief Master Sgt. Etchberger Way or attending a drill down at the Levitow Training Support Facility (Etchberger and Levitow are both enlisted Air Force Medal of Honor recipients), knowing where we came from will help us on the path to where we're going.

Learning about these amazing Airmen and how they went above and beyond to accomplish the mission has motivated me to think about how I help complete Keesler's mission.

I'm a photojournalist. My job is to tell the Air Force's story. I help complete Keesler's mission by writing stories about our Airmen, and ensuring the whole world knows just how amazing they are. Technical training is the first step to being excellent in all we do, and it's humbling to think about what they may accomplish in the future, now that I know what Airmen whose beginnings started right here have done.

I encourage you, whether you're an airman basic or a general, to do some research. Read about what heroes in the past have done, and think about how you fit into our mission today. You may just be surprised with what you come up with.

For me, FTAC wasn't just a simple base orientation; it was a lesson in finding the stepping stones laid out for us by the legacy of those that came before, and how we can help pave the road for Airmen of the future.