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Today's MTIs, through the eyes of an old airman

Apr. 23, 2014 - 06:39PM   |  
Basic training
Basic trainees are watched by a military training instructor as they pass over an algae-filled water obstacle on a cable and rope bridge. 'We can't lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of our MTI corps ... give fully of themselves, their families sacrifice, and they train our newest airmen hard,' writes Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia. (Michael Tolzmann/Air Force)
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I normally donít jump into the fray of Internet social commentary, but as Air Education and Training Commandís senior enlisted airman, I felt compelled after seeing many readersí comments stemming from a March 31 news article on the court-martial of a former military training instructor.

The article highlighted the former MTIís guilty actions and quoted an anonymous MTI source to suggest how soft Basic Military Training has become and how much power basic trainees wield over their instructors. I spend much of my time at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the 37th Training Wing and at BMT. There, I talk to many airmen, both in and out of training. I also look and listen from afar, when my presence isnít always known, because situational awareness is my job. But Iím also not so naÔve to believe we live in a perfect world.

BMT is a demanding environment and is not for everyone. Weíve spent time and effort creating an atmosphere safe to train in, while conducive to preparing our newest airmen to begin learning how to deliver lethal combat air power. I donít need to remind anyone of where weíve been and where we will never go again. At last count, 35 noncommissioned officers who ignored their core values, and hurt airmen, put a nasty shiner on the eye of our great Air Force. Since then, weíve taken major steps to restore the trust and confidence this nation has in our Air Force. This is why I write today.

You can be proud of the Air Force MTI corps. Itís my job to represent these airmen, and it bothers me to think some believe weíve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. (I can hear the naysayers. ďChief, because of where you sit, airmen will tell you what they think you need to hear versus whatís really happening.Ē To that I reply, Iíve invested my time wisely and find that most of our airmen, MTIs and leadership trust me. Iíve been fortunate to serve 29 years and realized long ago that trust is hard to earn but easy to lose. So for me, not having trust is a deal breaker in any relationship. I make that known up front.)

Iíve listened long to our MTIsí concerns. Iíve found clear distinctions between a small minority who may feel powerless and those who clearly acknowledge they are comfortable operating in this environment. What the anonymous news source failed to mention was that those same critique boxes he or she referred to in the article are mostly stuffed with notes of praise for their MTIs and this institution we cherish. Iíve read them. The prevailing theme is one of pride and gratitude. In fact, the notes are a running testimony to how these trainees will never forget the names of their MTIs and the difference these superior NCOs have made in their lives.

We canít lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of our MTI corps ďgets it.Ē They give fully of themselves, their families sacrifice, and they train our newest airmen hard. Itís what we expect of them and they deliver every day.

Never forget that many of these young trainees may soon find themselves in harmís way.

Our goal at BMT is producing a tough-skinned, resilient, respectful airman ready to fight tonight. If you need any further proof, I extend a personal invitation to you to join my boss, Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command, and I any Friday morning at 9 a.m. at Lackland to witness a BMT graduation ceremony.

I was taught early on to carry my freight, so I gladly remain un-anonymous. Iím airman Gerardo Tapia, command chief of AETC, and I proudly stand beside my airmen and MTIs.■

Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia is command chief of Air Education and Training Command.

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