By Senior Airman Suzanne Kiflawi, 141st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 11, 2013
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE,Wash. -- "Room... attention," a male voice called out. This was not quite the greeting I was expecting as I attempted to quietly enter the room. The voice, hesitant, wasn't at the volume level to command a whole room, so only a few people stood up and came to a position resembling attention. The rest looked confused, unsure of what to do.
"It's okay. Really," I said. I gestured for them to sit back down as I sheepishly made my way to a chair in the back of the room. The instructor up at the white board smiled, then proceeded to explain how and when to call a room to attention, followed by a brief overview of rank recognition. He gently pointed out to the group that my uniform, though deserving of respect, carries the rank of Senior Airman, an enlisted rank, not an officer rank.
Having the room called to attention was the last thing I was expecting when I walked into this classroom at the Education and Training Center on Fairchild Air Force Base. There were about twenty students sitting at the tables, eager to learn.
That is the goal of this classroom and these men and women are Student Flight. They're newly-hired personnel from all over the wing and are here to learn as much information as possible to help them through BMT, tech school, and to set a foundation for their Air Force careers.
These students range in age from 17-35 and, for some, this was their first time reporting for Student Flight. For one man in this group, it was his last. Jeremy Lemes left for Lackland Air Force Base three days later. I asked him if he felt ready for it.
"Oh, yeah. I mean, I'm gonna be fine with the physical stuff. And the mental stuff, that will probably be fine. It will suck to be away from home." Lemes had to say goodbye to his wife and daughter when he left for BMT, but he said he felt a lot of support from his family, friends, and his church, and was prepared with the knowledge he gained through Student Flight.
"They had some guys who'd just graduated from Basic come in and talk about it. They talked about what we should know, what we should take with us, stuff like that. Mostly, they just said that it's, physically, just really, really hard." Lemes is familiar with working hard, though. He works as a lead mechanic in a shop and hopes someday to go into law enforcement. "That's why I chose Security Forces. I joined because I want to serve my country and this seemed like a good way to get experience and work toward a career."
Lemes is not a typical student, though. At age 35, he's hitting the upper limit for joining the Air National Guard. "In fact," he said, "I'll be turning 36 while I'm at Basic. I just hope no one finds out."
Typically, members of Student Flight are between 18 and 20, young and fresh from high school, their whole life and career ahead of them. Though she fits this description, Rachel Crofoot is anything but an ordinary student. Crofoot comes from a long tradition of Air National Guard members, including her mom, Chief Master Sergeant Mary Crofoot.
Gaining from the experience and wisdom of her ANG heritage, Crofoot is well on her way to a career like her mom's. She leaves for BMT in July and will come back following tech school to work as a crew chief in Aerospace Maintenance.
Though excited about her new job, Crofoot's dream job is to be a pilot, and the Washington ANG 141st Air Refueling Wing is helping her to achieve this. Last year, she was the recipient of the 141 ARW's Wings Over Washington Award, which puts her on the path for a four-year college degree and flight school, all while she is an enlisted member of the WA ANG.
"I have a life plan laid out now. It's nice to know there's something ahead of me when I graduate high school," Crofoot explained. She is excited about being in the Air Force and carrying on the family tradition.
"The only thing I'm really scared of in Basic is how much I'm going to miss my family. That, and having to wear a gas mask in the gas chamber," Crofoot said solemnly, the look of dread already plainly written on her face.
Arranging and designing instruction for new ANG members before they enter BMT is the job of Staff Sergeant Michael Addams, who runs the Student Flight program. "The Student Flight program helps students get through BMT successfully and even to get them into BMT faster by taking care of paperwork or security clearance issues that may be tying up the process," he explained.
Addams said, "The goal of Student Flight is to give them the opportunity to see how the Air Force actually functions and how their role fits into the big picture. We want to get them excited, to know our mission and why we're here."