U.S. Air Force Graduation. Impressed, No Less!

I wanted to write a blog about my visit to San Antonio but there was no way that I could put the good times into a single blog without it becoming a dissertation for a Doctorate. So, I’m going to break it down and give the different subjects their correct dues.

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I watched my girlfriend graduate from the U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training course at Lackland military base in San Antonio and was able to experience an extreme level of pride in her achievement. An achievement clothed and presented in grandeur, a massive sense of self-achievement with a polished finish that gleamed in the Texas sunshine. Watching 735 graduates parade and move with purpose was a sight that could have instilled awe into the most doubting of hearts. Having been on both sides of a graduation ceremony, and understanding the work and effort that goes into producing one, I am currently at a point where superlatives really fail to contain the experience.

The graduation ceremony is broken down into 2 parts, over 2 days. The Airman’s Run, with receiving of graduation coin, on the first day and the Graduation Parade, done in parade dress, on the second day. I really appreciated how proud of the graduates the Training Instructors were and how they displayed it. Professional yet personable.

The Airman’s Run threw me off. I wasn’t expecting it. I checked in with the Visitor’s Center of Lackland military base and was told that I was to be at a briefing the next day for 0700. “Wait… What?! I’m not graduating. What’s the with the 0500 wake-up time?!” Anyway. After a struggled start to my morning, I met with Beth’s parents and we sat and listened to a briefing that introduced families to the family of the U.S. Air Force, gave us information of how hard the new airmen had worked and told us, about a thousand times, that the camera crew would be taking pictures and videos of the next two days! (Personal joke!)
The briefing was a good ice-breaker and got the families of the new airmen as hyped as the individuals that were about to make the run, in front of families that hadn’t seen them in almost 8 weeks, wanting to demonstrate the hard work, dedication and regimenting that had been endured for said period. In my mind, I think I said, “Woah! This is deep!” at least 100 times!

We were ushered outside into an arena setting and eventually saw, in the distance, a few people mustering into position. They weren’t our people. They happened to be other trainees but the sight of them raised the atmosphere of the expectant crowd and, I can’t lie. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next, keeping in mind that my experience of a graduation ceremony, for the Royal Air Force, back in 2003, contained around 100-150 graduates.
As several squadrons of graduates came flowing around the corner, each chanting its own squadron mantra, I think I was only able to get out, “Wow. That’s a lot of people.”! The procession of personnel seemed never-ending and you could hear the pride and gusto in EVERY voice as the new airmen coursed through the spectators, some focused dead ahead, retaining military bearing. Others side-eyeing the crowd, looking for family, suddenly lighting up when they spotted their supporters. I can only liken the atmosphere to how I feel before a race. I wanted to break ranks and join in with the run! As Beth ran past, she stayed looking ahead but, as soon as she heard the familiar voices in the crowd (Actually, I think it was her mum. Yeah. Definitely her mum, bursting ear drums with proud emotion and vocal applause!), her face changed to one of relieved excitement, eyes wide, yet still focused on the job at hand. The pride was so deep, I think I could have shed a tear if I wasn’t so awe-struck by this momentous occasion. In my head, I could only really think, “That’s my woman!”
The run course looped around, away from the crowd, and came back for a second pass in the opposite direction. Airmen had spotted family and family had spotted airmen and those that weren’t spotted definitely heard. Pride and self-achievement sky-rocketed for the second pass. This time, tears of joy were mixed in. There’s a certain part of the heart that gets touched when you see someone expressing pride, yet humility, in an achievement to the point they shed a tear. You could sense something inside wanting to burst out of each and every person running by. On the second pass, Beth ran with a noticeable increase of stride length and bounced that much higher in her stride. Remarkable. Simply remarkable. Cheers and rapturous applause all around. Moments like that just don’t happen often. I wish I could find the vernacular and vocabulary to put feelings into words as my fingers fly across this keyboard!

Following the run, there was a procession that included the receiving of the graduation coin and a naturalization ceremony for two of the graduates. One from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Poland. This parade was carried out in ABUs (‘Combats’, for those not familiar with the acronym).
What stood out to me most about this parade (Besides Beth, of course!) was the band. Beth marched with them, playing the trumpet (Yeah, she’s gifted like that!).
The band did not consist of a regular USAF marching band. The band was made up of the very graduates that enlisted 8 weeks prior! Man, if that isn’t an achievement. If that isn’t promotion of something special in itself, I really don’t know what is! These students went through the rigours of Basic Military Training AND fit in band practice. I’m just going to leave it at “WOW!”. I was speechless. Proud but speechless!
735 airmen, from many age groups and social demographics, proudly marched to their allocated spot on a sprawling parade area, behind a long line of honorary graduates. The cold breeze that laughed through the stadium seating just couldn’t cool the hearts of pride that beat behind warm, beaming smiles. During moments of silence, the proverbial pin-drop would have been delayed, the atmosphere was that charged.
When the parade came to a close, the new airmen waited in formation for families that descended like chariots of fire to whisk them away in a flurry of hugs, kisses and tears of joy. 8 weeks could have felt like 8 years at this point. The waiting crowds inched ever closer as the dismissal seemed to last a lifetime! Without doubt, these moments can’t be described. They can only be experienced.

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The fun times and bonding that followed are for another blog. Needless to say, though, I couldn’t help but feel like one proud boyfriend, witnessing the changes in demeanour and character. It’s impressive to see how a personality changes when launched from a different perspective. I know Beth’s parents would agree.

The Graduation Ceremony was more formal. There was no hype and the simple fact is, hype wasn’t needed. Graduation ceremonies don’t need them. They bring with them their own level of swagger. The difference between the two ceremonies, as The Riddler would say, was “Showmanship”. ABUs made way for Blues parade dress. Belt buckles and buttons all lined up. Not a single thread out of its place. Think GQ, with a slice of selfless personality. It’s amazing to see individuals strut their stuff in pride, with enough humility demonstrated to show that their special show is part of something much bigger.
In the stands, there was a little more comfort than the previous day. The sun warmed the breeze that, this time, chose to lend its support to the onlookers with a gentle brush over close-fitted collars of those wearing dress shirts. This could have been any day in early spring. How apt for those about to experience this new beginning of such an illustrious career.
Again, the band stole the show for me. I’m probably biased because Beth was in the band but that’s just too bad. Deal with it! On top of that, though, I still thought it was absolutely tremendous to present three musical movements, learned in only three weeks, on top of the rigorous regimen already being undertaken. The band definitely got, and still get, my standing ovation. *salutes*
I wasn’t able to make out the aircraft that gave us a fly over but, from my limited plane-spotting knowledge, it seemed to be a Hawk. But don’t quote me on that. The fact is, as with any ceremonial fly-over, that single moment in time wraps all emotions, being felt by those in the crowd and those on parade, in to a perfect package for one’s memory. Thanks for which can only be demonstrated through a proud smile or single tear of joy. If I summed up the entire graduation in two words, it would be Pride and Patriotism.

The key part of the ceremony was when the graduates marched along the Bomb Run. A distance which seemed to be about 200m (650ft) or so. 735 proud, brand new airmen, marching along a concrete walkway, in perfect formation, giving “eyes right” salutes to the Commanding Officer and other dignitaries, under clear command from the Military Training Instructors. I can’t even lie. I could have enlisted on the spot at that moment!

Drill, for the USAF is very different from what I’m used to, coming from a British military background, where arms are locked out and swung to shoulder height when marching and graduation is done with Rifle Drill. It took some getting used to but, within the context of my experience, differences can never be wrongs. I think EVERY airman that graduated should be extremely proud and give themselves a pat on the back and the Military Training Instructors and Drill Sergeants need to do the same. Ceremonies like this just aren’t put together overnight. The spectators and families were also treated with the utmost regard by base personnel, both involved with the parade and otherwise. I was definitely taken aback by the heightened professionalism and politeness that I came across. I’m either going to have to enlist or catch an invite from someone else because I’d LOVE to experience it all over again!

Amid the pomp and ceremony, soaked up by my clearly sponge-like senses, I was there to share a moment of pride for only one person. I don’t think I can count how many times I told her how proud of her I was and, no matter how many times I told her, it never felt old or cliché. I’m not sure the achievement has sunk into Bethanie’s psyche just yet but she definitely outdid herself with this one. *raises glass* Here’s to my special woman, doing special things!

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