Chapter Twenty-seven: Sam Joins the Air Force

Grandpa Gordon’s response to the news was circumspect at best. He did, however, wish Papa Sam good luck. His only comment seemed to surprise Papa Sam in that his father thought that he was going to pursue a career in athletics. He said, “I knew you had gone to the college, but I just thought you were taking a break considering that you have been going hot and heavy for the last six years. But if you are sure that is what you want, I support your decision one hundred percent.”

Mama Clara was, of course, worried that her son would push it too hard to live up to the legend that his father was.

One thing Papa Sam came to realize as he matured and that was that notoriety and power never seemed to affect his father. He seemed to be embarrassed by it all. It just never seemed to change him in any way. He was always humble and seemed to be always well-grounded. He just hoped that he could do the same. He knew that he was starting to develop a little bit of an ego when he started doing so well in football, and maybe that in no small way convinced him to take the route that he was taking now. Papa Sam knew one thing, the military would certainly make him more disciplined and humble. They seemed to have a way to crush arrogance in their cadets. The system seemed to work. He had known a lot of cocky and brash teens join the military and totally turn things around. It was quite amazing how some of his friends had changed just after the 8.5 weeks of boot camp. Besides, he could think of a lot worse role models to follow than his father, the general. His father never seemed to lose focus, and whatever he set his mind to, he did it. Now that he knew he had his father’s love, he still wanted to make him proud. This was a much more healthy outlook than the one he had for so many years.

One thing his father gave him before he left for boot camp was his two ruck sacks. They still were in good shape. He told Papa Sam that he kind of thought of them as good luck tokens, considering they saw him safely through three wars and hundreds of combat flights. Papa Sam kind of choked up when he gave his thanks to his father, Grandpa Gordon.

Monday morning came by all too quickly, and Papa Sam found himself on the bus towards Lackland Air Force Base. He had to admit that he was a little apprehensive. He knew it was going to be demanding but he knew that physically he should have no problem. Even though he had not played sports for the last four years he had remained physically active in the ROTC, and he tried to run on the week nights he did not have classes. He had always been pretty good with school, so he didn’t think that the book learning part would present any real problem for him.

The first couple of days were a little difficult, but once he got settled into the routine and he figured out what his drill sergeant expected from him, things went pretty smoothly. He passed the physical with no problem, and once his body got used to the heavy physical exertion that was boot camp, he pretty much coasted through it. So all those years of being yelled at and pushed by his coaches had not been a waste after all. He was easily the fastest cadet on the obstacle course. He still had his blistering speed to fall back on. Most of his training in junior  high and high school had revolved around speed work. To better prepare for the military life over the last few years, Papa Sam had switched the emphasis towards endurance training. As time marched on, no pun intended, he thanked his foresight. He also had the benefit of his father’s experiences. He had always listened to his father when he told his war stories. While Papa Sam had six years of sports to physically prepare him, his father had a life of hard work on the farm.

I thought it might be interesting to include some more detail about boot camp, to give the reader a better understanding of what Grandpa Gordon went through and well as what Papa Sam is going through now, in Lackland, Texas.

Air Force Basic Training Requirements

Physical Requirements

Air Force Basic Training, also called Basic Military Training or BMT, is the first assignment you’ll have after joining up. The most important thing you can do to help yourself before leaving for BMT is to get into decent physical shape. Your cardiovascular and musculature health is going to be taxed to the max during the several weeks of exercises and tests, and going in with a solid workout routine already under your belt will give you a serious advantage over your peers. At the start of BMT there will be an initial assessment. 

Recruits are expected to be able to run 1.5 miles in less than 18:30 and have a 39-inch waist at maximum.

Post BMT Physical Fitness Standards

1.5 mile run in 11:57 | 42 sit-ups in 1 minute (39 for ages 30-39) | 27 push-ups in 1 minute (all ages) | 35-inch waist.

BMT is eight and a half weeks long. Each week begins a new phase of training. You’ll be put through your paces in new and exciting ways every seven days. You’ll only get a few short weeks to make the physical fitness requirements, so it’s vital that you come prepared.

What to Bring to Basic Training Air Force?

The Air Force provides many basics for all recruits who arrive for basic training, including:

  • Toothbrushes
  • Nail clippers
  • Soap
  • Notepads
  • Pens
  • Markers
  • Towels
  • And more.

Below is a list of other items that will make your time in BMT go much smoother:

  • Temperature-appropriate clothing
  • Glasses, along with your prescription
  • One belt
  • One regular watch
  • Running shoes
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving cream
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Banking information
  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • Enlistment contract
  • Marriage license and birth certificates for your dependents
  • Visitor Access Request Letter for anyone attending your graduation without a military ID
  • Contact information for family and emergency contacts
  • Cash

Do not bring these items to BMT:

  • Tobacco products
  • Jewelry
  • Food
  • Candy
  • Beverages
  • Non-prescription medication
  • Magazines
  • Other items of value that can’t be replaced

Tobacco products are forbidden at BMT, as is personal food and drink items. Everything you’ll need to satiate you is provided already. Jewelry, and other high value items can’t be 100% secured and as such are better left at home. Bring clothing that errs on the conservative side. The rules stipulate that you must be dressed appropriately at all times. Military-issue glasses will be provided based on your prescription. Contacts are allowed, but only until your glasses are given to you, so don’t bother bringing a year’s supply because you won’t be wearing them.

Air Force Basic Training Phases

You know the requirements to begin with and what you’ll want to bring with you. But at this point, you’re probably wondering what is basic training like? Or, what’s the Air Force basic training workout routine? In brief, it involves a lot of physical activity and classroom time, and not a lot of sleep. You’ll be up and at physical training (PT) by 0500 6 days a week. A great deal of the time you’ll want to be up before 0430 to take care of any details like keeping your hair in regulation, since this is the only time you’ll have to do it. PT staggers strength and running days, so you’ll never be using the exact movements two days in a row. Here’s a detailed schedule of what to expect week by week.

Week 0

Week 0 is a lot like the first day of school. It’s the adjustment period where you’re shown what’s expected of you for your time in BMT and given the tools to succeed. One of the first things that’ll happen is that you’ll attend a briefing with the 737th Training Group and be assigned to your Military Training Instructor (MTI). You’ll snag your Air Force-provided gear, get educated on how to use it, and how to fall in during drill. You’ll be given a primer on how to make your bed to standard, clean your shoes, and keep the rest of your outfit looking sharp. This is also when you’re given a rundown on the physical requirements of BMT. In terms of medical, there will be a general health checkup and blood work, along with vaccinations. You’ll get a phone call home to update everyone rooting for you in the wings. And, of course, you’ll get your haircut. Say goodbye to those beautiful flowing locks and get ready to work.

Week 1

And now it begins. Monday of Week 1 brings with it the initial physical assessment to show your MTI where you stand. Hopefully, you’ve been training at home and are ready to bring it. You’ll learn how to report and salute, check in to base, fold your clothes and sheets to military standards, how to recognize rank, what will be expected of you in the classroom, and more. Week 1 is also when your weapon is assigned and analyzed. This is also the time for introductory classes on behavioral expectations and successful integration into your training group, and will include lessons on topics like appearance, cultural sensitivity, and suicide prevention. Week 1 begins individual and group drills. This is when the real fun begins.

Week 2

Week 2 takes the pace up a notch. Here you’ll dive further into classroom learning and drill. You’ll start with the history of the Air Force and its organization. You’ll be given detailed career guidance and have the opportunity to figure out what it is you want to do with your time as an airman. You’ll also be tested on the information you absorbed in Week 1. The MTI will ask you to demonstrate weapon care and maintenance, and they’ll inspect your living quarters to make sure you’re meeting regulations so far. You’ll learn more about professional interaction with your peers and what’s expected of you in an Air Force environment and participate in team-building exercises. Drill exercises will teach you how to move crisply as a group, with weapons and without, and teach postures and movements like parade rest, present arms, fix bayonets, and more. PT will continue to ramp up, with strength days increasing in reps and intensity.

Week 3

Week 3 is a big one. This is when you’ll demonstrate your fitness level and how far you’ve come in PT. This is called the 3 Week of Training (WOT) PT appraisal. If you aren’t up to snuff, it’s very possible that you could be held back or transferred in order to start training all over again. Classroom sessions will turn to topics like basic leadership and character, cyber awareness, and public relations. Week 3 is when extra duty begins. These are team tasks like laundry, chow running, inspecting beds, guarding the roads during exercises, and dorm monitor. These positions may be volunteered for or assigned to you by your MTI. You’ll also be assigned your dress uniform in Week 3 and shown how to look your absolute best with it on.

Week 4

In Week 4 you’ll be learning about important topics like sexual assault prevention and reporting, STIs, environmental awareness, ethics, and more. You’ll be instructed on Air Force career and progression possibilities and financial preparation for the future. Leadership and mentorship training will continue, with the overall goal to help you become a responsible team player and potential future leader.

Week 5

Intro to combatives in Week 5 begins hand-to-hand combat training. Here you’ll practice techniques taken from a variety of martial arts that have been adapted for military use in the field. Your progress with overall skills development will be measured, including another look at your weapons and weapons maintenance know-how. Classroom time will focus on preparation for combat and include topics like the Air Force code of ethics and combat stress recovery.

Week 6

Welcome to your final PT assessment. This is when you’ll have to meet the fitness requirements or be held back from graduation. Hopefully, you’ve made excellent progress so far and this last appraisal will prove that. Week 6 is when Foundational Expeditionary Skills Training (FEST) takes place, which introduces recruits to the skills they’ll need to utilize on deployment. You’ll also be learning about chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear defense.

Week 7

Week 7 is BEAST Week, or Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training. In order to demonstrate everything you’ve learned so far and your readiness to use those skills in a combat environment, you’ll be taken to a training field in the western part of Lackland AFB for a simulated deployment experience. Recruits will defend their respective zones against attacks that will mimic chemical, guerilla, or conventional weapons and tactics. Zones are equipped with sleeping quarters, command tents, and field hospitals. Your day will begin at 0445 and include daily intelligence briefings, manning defensive firing positions, and guarding camp. Week 7 will also introduce recruits to the pugil stick, the padded quarterstaff or box that’s been popularized in movies about BMT and in game shows.

Week 8

Week 8 is a time for celebration, but also preparation. You’ll be graduating from BMT and finishing any last-minute requirements, participating in final briefings, ceremonies, and parades, and finding yourself relieved that the whole ordeal is coming to an end. At the same time though, it’s time to get ready for what comes next in your Air Force career. You’ll accept your orders and find out where you’ll be stationed for the foreseeable future. Your family will come out to support you during the open house and graduation ceremony, and give you the support you’ll need to move forward with your journey as an airman. 

Air Force Basic Training Graduation

Graduation occurs on a Friday, and the weekend following is filled with events for the family. This is a special time for airmen when they receive any awards or honors they achieved in BMT. Guests must pass a background check and have a photo ID in order to enter the base. Guests will also need insurance and registration information for their vehicles. Remember when we listed a Visitor Access Request Letter as something to bring with you? Here’s when that form comes in handy. All guests will enter Lackland AFB through Airman’s Gate.

Papa Sam was able to make a call once a month to Tammy for no more than 10 minutes. The time he spent talking to her was a godsend. He knew she was doing the best she could. Her parents were helping her out a little with money, since he was not making as much money while in boot camp, so things were a little tight. By this second call, things had settled down a little bit for the both of them. It also meant that boot camp was almost over. So he spent the last few minutes giving her instructions for the graduation ceremony. He mentioned that he would only have 10 days off before he had to report to the Randolph Air Force Base. He asked her if she thought this would be enough time for them to get married since both families would be there for the graduation ceremony, anyways. She thought that would be a good idea. But she further stipulated that she expected a nicer ceremony and a honeymoon when they had more time.

The ceremony went well, Tammy and her father Stephen and her mother Veronica Walker were there. Grandpa Gordon and Mama Clara also came to the ceremony. After the ceremony, Grandpa Gordon treated both families to a nice Texas steak dinner. After the meal was over they discussed the wedding plans. They were all in agreement that the best option was to go to the justice of the peace in the morning and have a simple ceremony. Then the couple would still have a few days left for their honeymoon.

Papa Sam in his pilot uniform