When a new recruit arrives at basic training, their first introduction to what an Airman should be is their military training instructor. They teach them everything from customs and courtesies, to uniform standards, to drill. Master Sgt. Tibetha Pascal, 355th Force Support Squadron acting first sergeant, spent five years shaping the future of the Air Force as an MTI at Lackland AFB, Tex.
Beginning her Air Force career as a services Airman, Pascal made the decision to submit her MTI package in 2004.
“I loved my job as a services apprentice, but I knew that there was more out there in the Air Force for me to see,” said Pascal. “I’m all about personal and professional growth, and I knew becoming an MTI would push me out of my comfort zone and help me realize some of the goals I had for myself.”
Pascal, who was then Staff Sgt. Williams, arrived at Lackland where the first step on the road to receiving her MTI hat, called a campaign hat, was an intense 14-week training course. During this program, she learned everything she would need to know to take on her own flight of trainees.
“The first seven weeks is geared more towards academics,” Pascal said. “You learn exactly what the trainees are going to learn so you can be that example for them.”
The training period not only tested her ability to adapt, but her ability to endure.
“The last seven weeks is when you get your first flight as an MTI student,” Pascal said. “I struggled with drill. I struggled with teaching. I struggled with everything. I will admit there was a point where I tried to quit. I was like, ‘Ok, I’m throwing in the towel. You can have this. Send me back to services.’”
After a particularly hard week, she was ready to admit defeat.
“I will never forget,” Pascal said. “I went to the commandant and said ‘Sir, I’m giving my all, but you know how some jobs aren’t for everybody? Well, this one is not for me.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘I hear what you’re saying Sgt. Williams, but you’re not quitting.’”
The commandant’s belief in her and refusal to let her give up pushed Pascal to take a hard look at her approach to training.
“I had to ask myself what I was going to do to prove that I could get through this and become an MTI,” Pascal said. “It was a great struggle for me. I think what I went through as an MTI student made me the senior non commissioned officer I am today.”
After earning her campaign hat and “cookie,” a moniker for the MTI occupational badge, she spent the next three years as a “street machine,” pushing flight after flight through the then six and a half weeks of basic training.
“I instructed more than 20 flights while I was at Lackland,” Pascal said.
When an MTI gets a new flight, they can work anywhere from a 16 to a 24-hour day. Long days can cut into time with family, something the Pascal was very familiar with.
“My husband actually got his campaign hat about six months after I got mine,” she said. “I will say that you and your partner have to have a solid relationship before you go into the program. It is hard work to maintain that relationship with all the other demands you have on you, but it is doable. People say you shouldn’t become an MTI if you’re married or if you have children. We were both MTIs and had two children, but we made it work. You have to want it all and be willing to work at getting it.”
The last two years of her time as an MTI, Pascal worked in an instructional capacity.
“I learned so much from each flight I encountered,” Pascal said. “Once you get past the yelling part and you start to have conversations with the trainees, you get insight into who they are. You may not have realized that this person had leadership qualities, but then you find out they’ve been helping another trainee with his duties the whole time. They have hidden talents and qualities you didn’t notice upfront.”
To Pascal, the experiences of an MTI are unlike anything else she’s encountered in her Air Force career.
“To be an MTI you have to be truly passionate about your job,” Pascal said. “We are the beginning. It says it right there on your way into Lackland. We are the ‘Gateway To the Air Force’. When they step off that bus, how they see us and how we train them can make or break it for the future of the force. To me, the MTI is a pivotal stepping stone for the next great leaders in our Air Force.”