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New uniform, same motivation: Former noncommissioned officer raves about jump from Corps to the Air Force

Feb. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
In this photo illustration, Senior Airman Kentavist Brackin wears the uniforms of both the Air Force and the Marine Corps. In a recent essay, the former Marine corporal writes about his fondness for the Air Force.
In this photo illustration, Senior Airman Kentavist Brackin wears the uniforms of both the Air Force and the Marine Corps. In a recent essay, the former Marine corporal writes about his fondness for the Air Force. (Staff Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik/Air Force)
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A former enlisted Marine who left the Corps for the Air Force has written an essay, sure to spark debate, in which he says the Air Force encourages more innovative thinking, that airmen are every bit as fit as Marines, and that, while he enjoyed helping junior Marines, he doesn’t miss having to “babysit” them.

Senior Airman Kentavist Brackin was a Marine until 2011. As a corporal, he found out his combat photographer military occupational specialty was closed to promotion. But he wasn’t ready to leave the military, he said.

He faced a tough decision: leave the MOS he had coveted since boot camp or leave the Corps. His Marine buddies had surprising advice.

“They were telling me [the Air Force] has a higher quality of living and ... an emphasis on career development and education,” Brackin said.

So in November 2012, Brackin replaced his MARPAT with an Airman Battle Uniform and started taking pictures of flyboys instead of grunts.

The switch had its own set of challenges. Brackin, assigned to 1st Special Operations Wing out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., recently detailed his move in a commentary titled “Trading my eagle, globe and anchor to be an airman,” published by Air Force public affairs.

“There are differences I still deal with today,” he said. “It’s just realizing that the two are fundamentally different. In the Marine Corps you have a combat mindset and in the Air Force it’s [based on] the mission in the air. ... I had to change my line of thinking.”

Fighting from the air requires a lot of long-term planning, he said, which is different from the rush of putting boots on the ground and bursting through doors. It creates two different cultures, he said, and the Air Force tends to encourage an exchange of ideas. Marines, he said, are trained to follow orders on a moment’s notice.

“In the Marines, sergeants always told me to keep my opinions to myself,” he wrote.

Even though he moved over as an E-4, Brackin is no longer considered a noncommissioned officer. As a corporal, he was responsible for leading Marines, but as a senior airmen, he won’t be responsible for leading others until he picks up another rank.

In the Corps, Brackin was responsible for junior Marines while deployed overseas. He said he helped them manage their finances and better deal with being away from home for the first time. It’s something he misses at times, he wrote, but it also made him feel “like a babysitter.”

“I knew if I didn’t check on my ‘kids,’ something was liable to be broken,” he wrote.

As for some of the other stereotypes Marines have about airmen, including that their fitness levels are sub-par, Brackin said he doesn’t see it. Marines get the idea that the Air Force is easier because its operational tempo is different, but he knows a lot of CrossFit-crazed airmen that PT as hard as any Marine, he said.

“I’ve met a lot of physically fit airmen and a lot of out of shape Marines,” he said.

Uniform aside, Brackin said his Marine Corps past isn’t something he has been able to shed completely. Airmen are constantly razzing him for his mannerisms, ‘oorahs’ and perfect high and tight, he said.

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