At 11:30 p.m. our bus comes to a slow stop in front of a building called the Peterson Training Complex. The rain hits the windows of the bus with tiny echoing taps. All 50 of us trainees quickly become silent as we see a man, clad in an Airman Battle Uniform and grimace on his face, walk briskly towards our bus.
The man steps slowly and deliberately up each step and says with a bellow, “Get off my bus!”
And so begins my first day of Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
My decision to join the Air Force was not an easy one. I had a great job managing mobile devices and corporate email for Toyota, was pursuing my Masters of Business Administration and had entrepreneurial ventures in the pipeline. There seemed to be no room in my life to add the military, yet I kept yearning how I could make it work.
Ever since grade school, I had a strong desire to join the military and serve my country. Perhaps my motivation comes from my grandfather, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Or maybe it’s seeing the camaraderie and crisp uniforms that made me want to be a part of something bigger than myself. After years of seeing others make the time to join, I contacted an Air Force recruiter and discovered the Air Force Reserve could actually work with my situation.
During my three-month stay at BMT, I learned that attention to detail meant a shirt could actually be rolled without any wrinkles, that an entire flight of 50 trainees running up and down two stories of stairs in 60 seconds is called teamwork, and that helping my fellow trainee complete the obstacle course is an example of wingmanship.
My BMT provided me these mostly physical challenges as tests of resiliency. It was a sometimes painful departure from my civilian routine but served as a tremendous new perspective to grow from.
When it seemed that I was finally settling in, my new routines becoming fine-tuned and our flight’s performance excelling, graduation day had arrived. I now needed to prepare for the next phase of my journey: technical school at an Army post called Fort George G. Meade, Md.
Learning approximately two years of photojournalism coursework in only 56 training days was my new objective. My commander had four objectives: study, do all things with excellence, build upon wingmanship, and help your wingman.
The detachment was unique from other Air Force training schools in that we trained on an Army post where classes included service members from each branch of the military.
Life in technical school served a stark contrast to life in BMT. There was still an emphasis on all things regarding Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, but schedules became less regimented.
Instead of physical training every day, group PT was only three days a week. Curfews were extended on the weekends, homework was managed by my own schedule, and I was even allowed to wear civilian attire and use a smart phone after the duty day!
I found technical school to be one of the most rewarding times in my young, Air Force career. I studied and read voraciously, became an Airman Leader, joined the detachment Airman’s Council, and volunteered at every event I could fit in my schedule.
I was also painfully aware that having so much independence immediately after BMT was difficult for many to acclimate to. Nearly 40 percent of my class section had failed out of the program or were in danger of failing out.
In a field where misspelling a name on an assignment is an auto failure and quizzes and tests are administered every day, I realized that technical school was intellectually challenging while BMT was more physically challenging. It was difficult seeing some wingmen getting placed on remedial status and not being able to help because it would be considered cheating within this career field.
I spent many late nights learning the ways of the Associated Press, how to write news and feature articles, press releases, the operations of a digital single-lens reflex camera and digital and social media techniques.
Through these hours of study I graduated at the top of my class as a distinguished honor graduate and, similar to BMT, had to plan for yet another transition to a new base and new routine.
On Oct. 16, I saw downtown Los Angeles for the first time in nearly six months from the very, back seat of a commercial airliner as we approached.
It finally began to sink in that I indeed had graduated and was now part of the operational Air Force Reserve. I had finished what I started and could now really begin a new chapter to serve my wingmen through the tools I was given in technical school: telling the airman’s story through the power of the photojournalism.