Retired Master Sgt. Francis "Spunky" Guess calls out cadence for a two week old basic training flight on the drill pad. Guess, attending the 50th Anniversary of BMT, enjoyed the opportunity to take a flight through its paces again. (Photo by Senior Airman Carlos J. Trevino)
"Tehn-hut," Technical Sgt. Francis " Spunky" Guess calls out to a BMT flight in 1955. This photo was taken at Sampson Air Force Base, N.Y., where Air Force basic training was conducted until the facility was closed in 1956 and all training was moved to Lackland, AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo)
by Senior Airman Carlos J. Trevino
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS Feature) -- "Forward, harch!" retired Master Sgt. Francis "Spunky" Guess bellowed to the flight of trainees. Attired in a current-issue battle dress uniform complete with chevrons and nameplate, the 68 year-old easily kept in step, marching the two week-old basic military training flight on the drill pad in the hot Texas sun.
Guess recently attended the 50th Anniversary of BMT celebrated at Lackland and was given the opportunity to spend some time training various flights of basic trainees, a task he performed nearly 50 years ago.
"Guess is a walking history book on BMT," according to Master Sgt. Ray Watson, 322nd Training Squadron. The 50th Anniversary of BMT reminds the Air Force of where it's going and where it's been.
"It was like he never left; he jumped right in there," said military training instructor Senior Airman Lashonda P. Brown. "It was kind of motivational for them (the flight). It gave them a better respect for TI's and their jobs," she said, adding that she and her flight were both awestruck by Guess' abilities.
"I was in charge; they got used to my voice," Guess said. "The songs I taught them came back to me. They really responded to me the way that I wanted them to."
In addition to teaching the flight cadence calls, Guess taught them how to do one-armed pushups. "It's all technique," he emphasized to the trainees, as he had the entire flight struggling to follow his pace doing a dozen pushups.
"I was amazed to see him perform so well," Brown said. "He stayed in condition and was able to get down and do it with them."
"Those fresh young faces had not changed a bit. They responded the same way (as when he was a TI) whenever I asked them a question. The reaction was the same and the results were about the same. It worked out that I hadn't forgotten anything," Guess said.
Master Sgt. Dion Bivens, a supervisor with the 737th Training Group, had the opportunity to observe Guess' work with the trainees as he escorted him around Lackland.
"It was exciting just watching him; to see him go out there and march the troops. You could see his eyes light up. He used slightly different commands, but it was all basically the same, to get from point A to point B. He was having a great time with it," Bivens said.
Like many blue suiters, Guess enlisted after high school, seeking a set of pilot's wings. "All through my high school years I wanted to fly. When I graduated from high school on the last day of May in '47, I signed up to become (an air) cadet. I got a recommendation letter from my congressman and school officials," Guess said.
Growing up during World War II, Guess served in the home guard as a plane spotter in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., a vital ship-building city. The home guard was later absorbed by the South Carolina National Guard, where Guess attained the rank of sergeant before reporting to Lackland. It was this military background that qualified him as an assistant to his TI during indoctrination training, as BMT was known in July of 1947.
But a unique chain of events helped to form his Air Force training and education career. "I was pulled out of basic in the ninth week of training (a total of 12 weeks) because we were short TI's at the time," Guess said.
When his TI did not return from leave, Guess was summoned to his flight's commanding officer. "You're doing a good job, and the troops have a lot of respect for you," the former combat pilot told him. "That's unusual for someone who used to be their buddy. We're going to keep you here as a flight marcher (as TI's were known then). This will be your career field," he was told.
A low score on the math portion of the pilot qualification test kept him from pilot training. However, he did qualify for Officer Candidate School, and so he enlisted, waiting for a open slot at Lackland's OCS.
But, according to Guess, a large number of pilot "wash-outs" from nearby Randolph Air Force Base were given priority for the OCS slots so they could become non-flying officers.
Guess looks back on his enlisted career in education and training with no regrets. "It just fell to me to be a training person. I don't know that as an officer I could have had any greater honors bestowed upon me or better duties to perform than I did as an enlisted person," Guess said.
After Lackland, Guess was transferred to Sampson AFB, N.Y., to work with BMT trainees. He also served as a BMT instructor at Parks AFB, Calif. The Air Force closed its east and west coast training centers in 1956 and moved all BMT operations to Lackland, but Guess never made it back.
Instead, he was sent to Iceland as the Air Force's premier training non commissioned officer. "I left the Air Training Command in 1955 to go to Iceland. I asked for the assignment to show the Air Force that there was a need for a bonafide training NCO. I wrote the Air Force and asked them to consider sending a training NCO overseas by Air Force Specialty Code, not an additional duty type, and they sent me as the first one," he said.
His final assignment was to the Air Force Re-Training Group at Amarillo AFB, Texas. The group's mission was to re-train Air Force personnel in what was known as "Operation Second Chance." Personnel were assigned there for rehabilitation from Air Force stockades so that they would become viable members of the Air Force again.
"That was an education program in itself. We changed their AFSC's and we found them jobs at the tech training center on base. We had AFSC's from all over, and we re-trained them into different fields. One of them even made Master Sgt. again. When they finished the program, we gave them back one stripe," Guess said. Only about 10 percent of the graduates from the program became repeat offenders.
"Law enforcement systems were continually studying the Air Force Re-Training Group to see why they had such a terrific success rate there and in the field when the students returned to the Air Force community, Guess said. "Now that was an assignment! It was one of the many outstanding things I had been involved with and I'm proud I was. That's where I ended my Air Force career."
"Over 50 years, things haven't really changed," Bivens said. "There may be slight modifications, but overall it's still basically the same mission as we had back when he was here in 1947. And that's to train airmen," Bivens said.
Though his military career is over, Guess has shown that he still has the energy and the ability to educate and train Air Force members of today and tomorrow.