We almost missed seeing Martin during the Airman’s Run that Thursday.
It was a combination of the time change (San Antonio is one hour behind DC), me underestimating San Antonio’s rush-hour morning traffic, and me also having no idea what this Airman’s Run was really all about.
Back in my day, there was nothing like an Airman’s Run at the end of Air Force Basic Military Training. My flight participated in a 5K at some point. I got a t-shirt. We ran two miles for our final fitness assessment. I did a good job with that.
But an Airman’s Run? Where family members line the street and scream for their Airmen while holding up huge signs and taking photos while all the flights run around singing jodies and running in step?
That’s something new. So I didn’t know what to expect or what exactly we were supposed to do, but in the end, it all worked out. Miss C and I arrived on base and parked a few blocks away from where the whole thing takes place. I thought I had at least 30 more minutes, and I had a general idea of where things would happen, so we started walking in that direction.
At some point, though, we started to hear people screaming and chanting, and then I noticed other family members were running in a particular direction.
So I grabbed Miss C’s hand, and together we started following the stragglers until we ended up at the end of a street.
And it wasn’t just any street.
It was the street where all the flights were running. But instead of ending up alongside the street, Miss C and I were actually at the very end of the street, facing the flights as they ran toward us before being forced to turn left.
It ended up being the best place to stand, because if we were standing on the side of the street, there was a chance it would be the wrong side, or we would be lost in the crowds.
But at this spot, there was no way Martin could avoid seeing us. There were only a handful of others standing next to us. We were looking at everyone. And everyone was looking at us.
Including Martin, who was just one flight away from being right in front of us.
I barely had time
to whip out my cell phone and set it on video. I didn’t get any photos. (Fortunately, I found a photo of Martin running on the BMT Facebook page.) Instead, I got incredibly shaky video as I held the phone in one hand and waved frantically with the other.
Miss C was jumping up and down next to me.
I made eye contact with Martin.
I knew right away he saw us.
And then he was gone again as the flight turned and ran away from us.
Miss C and I were giggling the whole time. We half-heartedly ran across the way, hoping to catch another glimpse as the flights ran back from where they came, but that meant falling into the crowds lining the streets. There was no way we’d get a good view.
We didn’t care, though. We definitely saw Martin.
And we couldn’t wait to see him again.
But we had to wait. We didn’t see him again for another few hours.
In the meantime, Miss C and I huddled together on a set of metal bleachers lining a drill pad where the Airman’s Retreat and Coin Ceremony was to be held, shivering as the Texas temperatures dipped down into the 40s.
At one point, a lady brought over a towel for Miss C to use as a blanket.
The Coin and Retreat Ceremony is another new BMT experience. Back in my day, the Airman’s Coin was a relatively new collectible item for enlisted folk. It was explained to us that the coins were to be carried, and not dropped unless you wanted to buy everyone around you a beer. At least, that’s what I remembered.
I was handed my coin by a chief master sergeant after my Warrior Week experience, standing alongside a metal warehouse with all my flight members. A Billy Ray Cyrus song blared over the sound system, and shortly after, a bus picked us up and drove us back to the dorms.
There were no family members around. In fact, back in my day, the first time family members got to see their Airmen was right after the official graduation ceremony on Friday.
Not on Thursday.
But alas, when BMT got stretched out to eight and a half weeks, the time needed to be filled, and all these little traditions became more significant ceremonies.
So that’s why Miss C and I sat on those freezing cold bleachers for a few hours, waiting for the Retreat and Coin Ceremony to start.
To pass the time, we took pictures. I walked to the food stand and got breakfast for the two of us while Miss C saved our seats.
I also chatted with some of the mothers I met online in our flight’s forum on the Air Force WingMom’s page. We all recognized each other from our posts.
That was awesome.
It seemed like forever before the flights started arriving.
But sure enough, they started to appear shortly after the honor graduates were recognized. I knew Martin was an element leader in his flight, so I knew he would be marching in front of his group. We were seated in the center of the drill pad, though, and while I could make him out, I couldn’t really see him, so I switched to my zoom lens to get a better look.
And I literally gasped when I saw him.
It was like seeing Martin from years ago.
Like, actually seeing my young German lieutenant standing over there, at attention, waiting to swing into step.
It was surreal.
He looked amazing.
In his letters, Martin wrote about the times he marched past the groups of families waiting to see their graduating Airmen. At one point, he was working a detail and witnessed the many happy reunions. Watching those with young children really choked him up. He admitted he didn’t think he would be able to hold it together if he saw Miss C and me.
And that was true.
He later said he was able to see Miss C and me right away since we snagged the best seats: front row and center in the bleachers right in front of his flight. He said he kept his attention on the top of the canopy above us, and refused to make eye contact with us.
That didn’t stop me from taking a million photos, though.
Truthfully, I didn’t pay any attention to the Retreat and Coin Ceremony. I know there were speeches to the history and significance of everything. All around me, mothers and girlfriends were sobbing and pointing out their loved ones. I even saw a few fathers dab at their eyes.
But I just couldn’t be moved to tears.
Instead, I was giddy with excitement, and I could feel Miss C growing anxious, too.
We just wanted to get to Martin. We just wanted to grab onto him, to see him up close.
Once they officially ended the ceremony, families were able to step forward and walk to their Airmen. Just as I stood up, my friend Karen appeared out of nowhere. She is still active duty, working in public affairs and stationed in San Antonio, and decided to swing by the area, knowing we were there somewhere.
Even though it’s been years since we saw each other, she just appeared and offered to take my camera to video the reunion. I just smiled and handed it to her.
It was seamless.
And the result was this video, which I posted last week.
By the time we reached Martin, he was a mess.
He was making what Miss C calls the “puffy face.” He admitted he lost all bearing when he saw us approach, and was in tears by the time we wrapped our arms around him.
It was one of the best moments ever.
We got to spend the rest of the day with Martin on “base liberty” which meant he was free to hang out with us, but he couldn’t leave Lackland Air Force Base.
So, we had lunch with Karen and Martin’s wingman, Larry, who is from Nigeria and also a Reservist from Andrews Air Force Base. (He and Martin are going into the same career field, too.)
Then Larry, Martin, Miss C, and I went to the base bowling alley, where we played a few games. If it weren’t for the uniforms, and Martin’s new skinny face and lean body, and all the other Airmen and their families, it really would have felt like it was an ordinary family outing.
But of course, it wasn’t.
Every now and then, another Airman came up and called out to Martin by our last name. Some of them introduced him to their families as “the German MTI.”
Still others approached him asking him for permission or confirmation of something, and I realized they were Airmen from his flight, seeing him as their element leader.
I found it all very amusing.
Miss C and I ended up staying on base until ten minutes before Martin was due back to his dorms. To be honest, we weren’t even bummed about saying goodbye. We knew the next day was going to be the official graduation ceremony, and then he would have a town pass to the leave the base.