Student flight experience ensures success at basic training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
An  Airman's memories of their first reporting statement or first time standing at attention are likely associated with memories of someone yelling at them.

Most likely this occurred during the first few days of basic training, but what if recruits already knew facing movements, the Air Force core values and rank structure? How different would basic training have been? The 161st Air Refueling Wing's student flight instructors aim to provide that experience for new members.

The main purpose of the student flight is to in-process new recruits into the wing  and then out-process them for basic training and technical school; however, a secondary benefit is the mentorship the trainees receive from the student flight's instructors.

New Airmen here believe this mentorship gave them the upper hand during basic training and  the uninitiated are hoping it'll do the same for them.

"I had no idea what I would experience in basic training, but this is giving me a good idea," said trainee Johnathon Maggard, who will join aircrew flight equipment after basic training and technical school.

Having recently returned from technical school and basic training, Airman 1st Class Wendell Van Duyne agreed that the exposure he received prior to leaving gave him an edge over his active duty counterparts.

"A lot of people didn't know how to do a reporting statement, how to stand at attention -or any of those little things that get people bothered and frustrated over. I had been exposed to them and was able to catch on that much quicker," Van Duyne said.

According to Master Sgt. Dena Hallaren, NCO in charge of the student flight, the program doesn't just benefit future Airmen, it also benefits the Arizona National Guard as a whole.

"Student flight helps the trainees prepare for basic training, but in return it helps the wing and the Arizona National Guard because it lowers the rate of wash outs," said Hallaren. "We do [physical training] with the trainees so we can gauge if they will be able to pass the PT test in basic. We have had a few that were not physically ready, but through this program we were able to mentor them so that they were able to pass. Overall, having this program saves the Guard a lot of money because it prepares the trainees to graduate from basic training. We know they are ready when they leave the wing."

Besides physical training, the  recruits also spend time learning the basics of drill and military bearing from former military training instructors, or TIs.

"We are lucky that we have two former TIs at the 161st, because this wouldn't benefit the trainees if the instructors didn't know how to drill them properly," said Hallaren.

"The time with the TIs - having been exposed to that - really made a difference," said Van Duyne. "I got yelled at that much less in basic."

Hallaren said the instruction is within reason and not as strenuous as basic training. 

"After instruction I'll do a welfare check on them, just to make sure that they are handling the training well," said Hallaren. "I don't play the TI role."

Hallaren said making sure the trainees are prepared to exceed and excel in the Air National Guard is what the student flight program is all about.

"We don't teach them everything, but we give them a good start," she said. "We teach them Air Force history, the wingman concept, rank structure, the Airman's Creed, the Air Force Song and the core values - and we test every drill weekend. We also go over important topics like suicide awareness. Plus, we do a little bit of motivational stuff to teach them how to prepare themselves mentally for basic."

"Sergeant Hallaren is great," said Maggard. "She gives us all the information we need and the answers to any questions we have."

Van Duyne agreed, "She was very structured and organized.She had a plan of attack and was overall helpful. I almost feel I was over prepared the way she set us up.By the time I got to basic it wasn't half as difficult as I thought it was going to be. What I experienced here was more than enough to prepare me for what I went through."

"When I see them in uniform I almost tear up, because I almost feel like a proud parent, but more like a proud senior NCO," said Hallaren. "When they graduate basic, especially if they get honor graduate, I know I did it right."