I started my morning yesterday with coffee and chit-chat with my coworker’s daughter, who is heading to Air Force basic training in a few weeks. We did the math: she was THREE WEEKS OLD when I arrived at Lackland AFB back in January 2000. I must seem ancient to her, but I like to think my advice is timeless. What an exciting time for this young lady!
I told her to be wise in choosing a battle buddy, and later, good mentors. Seek out those who are level-headed, optimistic, and genuine.
It’s pretty crazy to think that the people I went thru basic training with … if they are still in the service, they are probably thinking of retiring in the very near future. Isn’t that crazy?
It’s been one year since Martin graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training (BMT). This first year has been pretty interesting, if I do say so myself.
Within months of arrival to his unit, he broke his finger during a mandatory “family day” sporting event, requiring surgery through my medical insurance, which was by choice after the military medical community fumbled his diagnosis twice, and delayed his care. Continue reading →
Earlier this week was the one-year mark since Martin first raised his hand and enlisted in the US Air Force Reserve. It was a Monday. I was working from home that day. Martin and Miss C drove to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland so that Martin could complete more paperwork with his recruiter. He texted me at one point, and said, “Hey, I can actually do it now. Is that okay?”
He meant enlisting, of course.
I texted back, “Sure. Go for it.”
And then 30 seconds later, I wrote, “Don’t forget to get pictures.”
What a year, right? And we’ve got much to look forward to this next year. He’ll be leaving our home for another three months for more training in another state. I’ll be on my own again with the kids.
But we got it. It’s cool. It’s what he signed up to do.
In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.
He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.
I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.
And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.
After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.
Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.
Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.
But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.
He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.
It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.
* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.
Once again, we traveled south to Richmond to spend the Memorial Day weekend with Martin. Not only were we blessed with three whole days together, but there was a twinge of excitement knowing it was the last time we would make such a trip since Martin graduates from tech school very soon, and will be home for good.
We decided to go all out.
Fortunately, several attractions in the area offered free admission for military members and we took full advantage at Kings Dominion (normal admission is $62 for adults/$40 for kids) and Colonial Williamsburg ($50/$25) since regular price as a family of five = never happening.
Since I didn’t get around to posting these earlier, I’m using this Flashback Friday to share some photos we took during our holiday weekend.
The one I meant to write and publish earlier, after Martin’s graduation from Basic Military Training before life and all its distractions got in the way.
As you know, Martin is attending his technical school for his job in the Air Force Reserve right now, but this post is specficially about my tech school experience, when I went through it back in the spring of 2000.
For those who aren’t familiar with this part of military training, technical school is where an Airman (or Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or member of the Coast Guard) learns his/her job. In some ways, it’s like college or a trade school, with all the classes, studying, and exams. (In fact, one can earn several college credits there.)
There are even dorms and instructors and dining facilities, just like a college campus.
But with more rules, and uniforms, and military order, of course.
Everyone who wears a uniform performs a job in the military that falls within certain categories or career fields. Each branch has a different way of calling these jobs. In the Army, these are called Military Occupational Specialties, or MOS. In the Air Force, the categories are called Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSC.
Within days of graduating from basic training, I was on a plane for Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike the majority of my fellow Airmen, who were headed to other Air Force bases for their training, I was heading to Ft. Meade, Maryland, an Army post that is home to the Defense Information School.
A lot of the people I knew and worked with in the Air Force are now instructors there themselves, to include some folks who went through tech school with me.
But I digress.
I was sent to Ft. Meade to attend the basic journalism course for three months.
The day I showed up at Fort Meade, I was assigned a roommate, Carolyn, who attended basic training the same time I did, although we were in different flights and didn’t know each other. She was from Minnesota and I was from Cincinnati, and we both were sort of obsessed with Ralph Fiennes and The English Patient at the time.
We got along just fine.
We shared a room in the Air Force dorms which were housed in a long, narrow building right across from the school. We each had a bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe closet, a book shelf and a desk, and we shared an ironing board and mini-refrigerator.
And while we still shared a bathroom with all the other girls on our floor, there were individual shower stalls for more privacy. While it was different than sharing a huge bay with 50 other ladies, we were still expected to make our beds every day, line up our shoes underneath, and keep everything dust-free.
Not all the Airmen were attending the public affairs course. Some were being trained as photographers. Others were there becoming broadcasters and videographers. A few were learning graphic design. Carolyn was training to become a photographer, which meant I was a frequent subject for her photography assignments.
That first weekend there, all the Airmen were involved in a fitness challenge. All the classes were divided up into flights, and my flight was the newest right out of basic training. So collectively, we maxed out on all the scores since we were all in prime condition. For the final obstacle, our commander — a captain who once played football at the Air Force Academy — challenged everyone to a chin-up contest. If someone from our flight could pump out more chin-ups than he, we would get the top prize: a weekend pass with no restrictions.
You see, there are “phases” during tech school. I wrote about them in an earlier post, but to sum it up, the phases are in place to ease the transition away from basic. Under normal circumstances, my flight would have remained in the first phase — which meant an early curfew, no civilian clothes, no leaving the base — for at least three weeks.
Fortunately, my flight had a few young men who could do chin-ups all day.
That first weekend, all of us got to put on civilian clothes again and head downtown to Baltimore. We went to Washington D.C. the next day.
That’s when I fell in love with this city. It was my first visit ever, and I just knew I would return to it in some capacity at some point in my life.
But at that moment, I was focused on Europe.
When it came to my classes, tech school was pretty easy for me.
From the age of nine, I knew about the public affairs career field, and my curriculum choices in high school reflected my goal to enlist in that career field. All those years in journalism and writing classes, learning about the media, all those public appearances during my theater years and on my mother’s television show really paid off at DINFOS.
Public affairs was a perfect fit for me.
But where was I going to go after tech school?
Like all active-duty Airmen in tech school, I expected to get orders to my first duty assignment sometime in the middle of my schooling there. We all got to fill out a “dream sheet” listing the locations we preferred, and all of my preferences were in Europe – most in Germany. When the instructor said I really should list some stateside bases, too, I explained my reasons for not listing any.
Of course, my ancestors came from Germany, and my dad loved it when he was stationed as a young Airman, but any time there was a major international military event, what location was in the news?
Ramstein Air Base. Germany.
Throughout my high school years, I paid attention.
If I wanted to be in the middle of it, in a place where things happened and media activity was constant, I wanted to be there.
So, long before there was Martin, there was a desire to speak the language and live and work in Germany on behalf of the Air Force. As a sophomore in high school, I signed up for German classes and took it for three years before signing up to be a foreign exchange student in the summer of 1999.
I wanted to be as prepared for the assignment as possible.
The instructor laughed when I explained all this, and said my enthusiasm for an overseas assignment would lead me straight to Korea.
Another student, though, overheard me.
She was a technical sergeant, a Reservist, and was cross-training into the public affairs career field. She didn’t live in the dorms with the new Airmen, but attended classes with us.
During our lunch break that day, she wrote an email address on a slip of paper and handed it to me.
“I heard what you were saying about going to Germany,” she said, “and I think you should write to this person. She’s the one who manages everyone’s assignments. I heard her speak at an event recently, and she seems really invested in people’s careers. I don’t think it’ll hurt you to reach out to her.”
So, in a moment of inspired bravado, I took the sergeant’s advice and wrote to the chief master sergeant in charge of assignments.
I later learned that the email was circulated from Fort Meade to Texas to Germany … throughout my career field’s entire senior leadership, actually.
It’s not every day that an airman basic — the lowest rank in the Air Force — writes to a chief master sergeant — the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force — and explains how the Air Force would benefit by sending that brand new baby Airman to Europe.
But I did.
The weekend after I wrote that email, my family from Ohio came out to visit me during the Cherry Blossom festival in DC, and it was the first time they got to see me in uniform since they didn’t attend my graduation from basic training.
I was in Phase Two at the time — I could go off-base yet I had to wear my blues uniform. During the first day of their visit, we spent the day walking around the Mall to see the monuments.
At the Women’s Vietnam Memorial, a lady approached my father and me. She identified herself as an Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, and wanted to know what I did for the Air Force. When I said public affairs, her face lit up.
“I work as a career field manager down at Randolph Air Base in Texas,” she said. “I don’t handle the public affairs assignments, but the lady who does sits right across from me.”
Needless to say, I started talking.
She took down my name, saying she would put in a good word for me to her colleague.
My dad was flabbergasted.
“I can not believe that just happened,” he said. “I think it’s a sign.”
About a week or so later, I got my orders to Ramstein Air Base.
To say I was excited is putting it mildly.
I couldn’t wait to head over to Europe.
But I had to finish tech school, of course.
In addition to the classes, there were “GI Parties” every Sunday night, when all of us Airmen were assigned household chores, such as mopping the hallways or dusting furniture in the open areas of the dorm.
There were random fire and evacuation drills in the middle of the night.
Early morning “fun runs” with the squadron.
Physical fitness (PT) in the afternoons in the field next to the dorms.
Curfew. Random room/uniform inspections. Custom and courtesy drills.
But there were fun times, too.
I really did enjoy my journalism and photography classes, completing assignments, and hanging out with the others after school or the weekends, when we ventured off base to the local malls and movie theaters, or to Baltimore or Washington DC again.
I got a belly piercing in a tattoo parlor right off base. (That was interesting.) And a few of us discovered a thrift shop not far from the base: I invested a nice chunk of my new paycheck on some great vintage finds.
I also bought a portable CD player and a huge CD storage case to begin my very own CD collection. (10 Internet points if you even know what any of that means.)
And I celebrated my 19th birthday there, too. A group of Airmen and Marines (who lived in the dorms across from ours) took me out for a birthday dinner that weekend, and brought me a cake and candles that morning.
I graduated in the last week of May.
The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes. I don’t even remember who spoke at it.
Later that day, my dad arrived from Ohio to take me back to Cincinnati so I could start two weeks of the “recruiters assistance program” which allowed for me to visit with family before heading over to Germany.
It’s been a lot easier keeping the kids connected to Martin now that he’s at tech school.
We no longer have to wait for letters, or the ten-minute phone call every two weeks. Now, during the weekends and evenings, all I have to do is flip open the laptop and sign in to talk with Martin.
It’s pretty nice.
Because our laptop is portable, we’ve been able to incorporate Martin in some of our household activities, and vice versa.
One morning, Lola and I lay in my bed, laughing as we watched Martin shave with a traditional razor and shaving cream. He just propped up his cell phone on the sink and talked with us as he did it. When he’s here at home, he normally uses an electric razor, so Lola found it pretty amusing to see him like that.
Watching Martin shave one morning.
Other times, Martin’s watched as Jaz sits through a nebulizer treatment, asking him questions and getting Jaz to hold up his fingers as they played counting games. I’ve sat our laptop on the kitchen counter and prepared dinner while Martin feasted on cereal or sandwiches in his dorm room, and the girls have held dance competitions in the family room with Martin voting from the laptop.
It wasn’t like this back in 2007 when I deployed.
It wasn’t as simple as sitting down and logging on. Of course, the nature of my work over there — traveling from location to location with my three-man news team — meant we weren’t always near computer/Internet access. But even if I did find some free Wi-Fi or a morale tent with some Internet access, not all the computers had web cams. Our home computer at the time certainly did not: Martin had to go out and purchase one and install it. It was hit-and-miss, depending on the connection and network restrictions. (Back then, all social media sites were blocked from most DOD networks.)
But there were a few times we were able to chat over the web cam using AOL chat — Kandahar being one that comes to mind — and we got to see each other in real time.
In the moments when we could communicate, it was so wonderful. I remember seeing Miss C bouncing around behind her Dad, wanting to show me random items from home (“See, Mom? Here’s our lamp! Here’s my teddy bear! Wanna see this plate?”) and just looking adorable. Sometimes, we just sat and stared at each other without saying anything.
Technology is much better and more reliable. I’m home. Martin’s just two hours away and safe, too. And I can expect with reasonable certainty that when the day is winding down, and the kids are ready to say goodnight, I can flip open the laptop and send a note, and Martin’s right there ready to connect.
The kids and I drove down to Richmond to spend the weekend with Martin.
Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the first opportunity Martin was able to exercise his new “freedom” from technical school.
Unlike our first visit with him a few weeks ago, Martin was able to wear civilian clothes, drive in a personal vehicle, leave the base, and stay overnight with us.
So, I booked our stay in an extended-stay hotel just outside the city, turned off all our electronics, and made the most of our time together.
The four of us arrived late Friday night with Martin greeting us at the hotel since he was able to get a cab and check in on time for us. He had everything set up for us: the pull-out couch done up for the girls and a crib for Jaz so all we had to do was carry our sleeping kids up to the room and toss them in.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sleep in on Saturday morning because more than half the people in his dorms failed their room inspections and he was required to be back in his dorms for a 6 a.m. room inspection. But that didn’t stop the rest of us from sleeping in!
By late morning, all of us were together again, though, and the very first thing we did was head over to the nearby shopping center to get Martin some new clothes.
Seriously — the man needs new clothes. When I pulled up to his dorms on the post, he was standing outside waiting for us, wearing his old jeans and t-shirt. It’s an outfit he’s worn for years, but it was hanging off of him.
To be honest, I thought he looked sickly. Not that he looked pale and weak: on the contrary. Martin’s probably the healthiest he’s been his whole life right now. But he looked like he was swimming in his old clothes and it just didn’t look right.
So we snagged him some new jeans and tops, and I was so amused as he kept going back and forth, grabbing smaller sizes off the rack.
Next, we went to the grocery store for some food items, and we returned to the hotel to eat lunch and hang out.
We took our afternoon nap all piled up in the king-size bed.
We went swimming in the hotel pool.
We popped popcorn, ate Oreos, and watched a marathon of movies.
And then we threw all three kids into the room’s giant whirlpool tub before getting them in their pajamas and tucking them into bed.
It was so nice just being able to do that simple family routine again.
Fortunately, Martin was able to sleep in on Sunday morning.
Or rather, he was able to stay in bed after the kids woke us up shortly after sunrise. All three of them bounded into our room and leaped into the bed once they realized he was still there in the room.
We took our time with breakfast and getting ready for the day, packing up our things to check out of the hotel.
We decided to head to the Richmond Children’s Museum for the afternoon, which was a very wise decision on our part. That place is perfect for kids, with various learning corners and play areas. There’s a little “town” set up, where the kids could play in a grocery store, a bank, a school, a news station, etc. There was a giant apple tree where the kids could “pick” the apples. At one point, we lost track of Lola while everyone was running around/playing in the center “playground” of the museum.
We weren’t concerned: it’s an enclosed environment with lots of areas to play. But there were many corners and rooms where she could be. We found her in the theater room, up on the stage, performing a puppet show for about ten people (a mix of parents and kids). I’m not even kidding: they thought it was a part of the museum.
She had a storyline, each character had a specific voice, and everything. Martin and I stood in the back, filming part of it and taking photos. It was too funny.
After the museum, we ate a late lunch at nearby Galaxy Diner which had a retro/futuristic space theme and really good food. It’s not often that all three kids eat ALL of their food at a restaurant, but they did.
And even Martin and I finished our plates, although we both regretted it later. It was the most both of us ate in one sitting in a long time.
But worth it!
After that, we went to a nearby movie theater to watch The Croods, and by the time that was done, it was time to drive Martin back to Fort Lee.
Yet, we couldn’t give him up right away, so we drove into the family housing area to find a playground. That’s one of the most reliable things about a military base: if you find the housing area, you will find a playground.
We let the kids run around for about an hour, hoping to wear them out for the road trip back up to Northern Virginia. It worked. By the time we really did drop Martin off at his dorm, the kids were very tired.
Which meant they were a little grumpy, too.
Nobody wanted Martin to go.
But fortunately, he only has one month left before he can come home for good with us.
Martin got to reunite with the whole family this past weekend.
Ever since graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Martin’s been attending technical school at Fort Lee in Virginia. For the longest time, I thought this part of his training was going to continue in Lackland, as mentioned in his orders. While it is true that the training group is based in Texas, Martin’s school is part of a joint training facility located on an Army base, just like my own tech school experience.
You can imagine how thrilled we all were when we realized that Fort Lee is only two hours away from us in Northern Virginia.
Regardless of his location, Martin’s considered a “pipeline Airman” right now. That’s a term given to brand new Airman who make their way through the “pipeline” — BMT and tech school — before joining the real Air Force. Continue reading →
That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.
He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status for extraordinary fitness. Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.
This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.
It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.
It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.
(I made up that last part.)
The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.
So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.
Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.
So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.
The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.
Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.
But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.
But he is wrong.
Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.
But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.
Thank you for your service.
The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.
Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.
At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.
Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.
This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.
For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Just two hours south of where we live.
Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?
That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.