Air Force News

Basic training: Making sure only the best make the team

Released: 21 Dec 1998

by Staff Sgt. Cheryl L. Toner
Air Force Print News

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Staff Sgt. Lonnie Isaac slowly walks into a well-lit corridor at work. It's deathly quiet. An automatic reaction to rising before the birds, Isaac rubs the sleep from his eyes while trying to fully wake up.

It's 4:30 a.m. and he's already been up for about half an hour.

"It's too early," he said quietly, while shaking his head, of his least favorite part of his day.

Long before many people get up, Isaac has already showered, kissed his wife and kids goodbye and driven to work. He is also probably still working after many people leave work for the day.

While Isaac isn't a ray of sunshine in the morning, he loves his job in the Air Force, even though it demands more than most like to give. Isaac is a military training instructor.

He -- like other MTIs -- does what it takes to shape the future of the Air Force. He can yell at someone, tell the individual to do it over, tell a trainee to "Get out of here," and tell a young airman what almost everyone on active duty can remember: "Give me a 341." This is all done in the name of discipline.

Sitting behind his desk, Isaac looks like any other sharp airman serving in the Air Force. He's about average height and average build. His demeanor around his co-workers is often soft-spoken and laid back as kindness and consideration underlie his actions.

However, a trainee in the vicinity will cause Isaac's own MTI training to kick in. His walk becomes as smooth and measured as a robot's, his heels click the pavement, his posture becomes stiffer and his eyes scan the fresh faces to the Air Force.

"I'm making sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing: marching, not talking, reading, and that their uniform is worn correctly.

"We're always evaluating," he said.

While he's looking to correct flaws, he doesn't do so gleefully. His goal is to see trainees successfully complete basic training.

"My job is to train people not kick them out," said Isaac. This may seem like an arrogant comment from a junior noncommissioned officer, but it's not. It's his job.

"I ask flights when they first come in, 'Has anyone ever played sports?' A few raise their hands. Then I ask, 'Did everyone who tried out make the team?' And, a few shake their heads 'no.' I then tell them, 'That's the Air Force. Not everyone is going to make the team.'"

Isaac, 27, has been an MTI for about three years and doesn't regret one day of it. The former security forces airman said he was previously a supervisor, and didn't like the quality of some of the people coming in the military. While the majority of the people he sees on active duty are as impressive as the next, he said he's dealt with a few people who had a "me, me, me" attitude, "and I didn't like what I saw."

So, answering an "ad" in the Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., base newspaper, Isaac worked the deal for a four-year tour to work long hours, see less of his wife and two kids, get a few extra bucks, and get free dry cleaning. The free stuff doesn't seem to outweigh the long hours and decreased family time, so why would he do it? "Discipline" is Isaac's answer. Not his personal discipline, the discipline of those coming into the military.

But Isaac didn't always think that way. He thought the poor attitudes in some new airmen were because of poor training on the part of the MTIs.

"When I came here, I found that wasn't the problem." The problem, he now knows, was on an individual basis. As an SF, Isaac just happened to get the "team players" who weren't on the starting line-up.

"This is an opportunity to see if I can have an effect," he said. "I like training airmen. I like to see them when they get here. I like to see them when they leave. If you could see the transformation ... " he said while mentally searching for a way to finish the sentence.

"Parent's tell me, 'They've changed so much! I couldn't do it in 18 years and you did it in six weeks.' That's a good feeling," Isaac said with a smile.

While the end result is what everyone -- the Air Force, MTI and trainee -- hopes for, it's not an easy row to hoe. The long hours and time away from family are a big sacrifice for MTIs. Isaac said he averages about two days off a month. How does his wife of eight years feel about this?

"I feel good that he can help the Air Force reach its goals," Sharon Isaac said. But she also realizes this cuts into family time.

"We had a good idea about the longs hours and the divorce rate," she said. "We've always been best friends. Sometimes I think it would be a good change (for my husband to find another job), but you never know where you'll end up next. And, I like San Antonio."

Her suggestions on how spouses can cope: make friends, join support groups and find a good church. "Keep a good attitude. Do things. Just go."

Why should anyone volunteer for a duty that asks for so much? For the "job satisfaction, leadership exposure and supervisory experience," according to Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton, Air Education and Training Command commander.

And right now, the Air Force is in dire need of people wanting the personal satisfaction of being MTIs. The Air Force recently approved 47 new MTI positions because of a decrease in flight sizes, according to Newton. As a result, he said, basic military training dropped from about 90 percent overall staffing to 78 percent.

Issac realizes that when a class graduates, it does more than go "somewhere in the Air Force." They fill jobs on the flightline, in offices, at the gate and in the base clinic.

When the "typical" day ends and Isaac sees cars heading in a mass exodus out the base gates, he doesn't mind that he's still at work. He also doesn't mind that he'll be back to work before those same people return to base the next morning. His reasons go beyond his dedication to duty or love of the military -- they literally hit home.

"I have no problem taking my daughter to the immunizations clinic," he said. "I know they're disciplined."

For more information on becoming an MTI, contact the Recruit the MTI team at DSN 473-1016/1018.

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