Commentary; My memorable visit to Air Force Basic Training

The U.S. Air Force continues to graduate the best and the brightest of America’s sons and daughters from the 37th Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio.

On May 3, 2019, I stood in awe as 790 Airmen marched in unison and put on full display the disciplined instruction that they had received over an eight-and-a-half-week period. Parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, friends and family cheered when they heard one of their own repeat the oath and shout the Airman’s Creed.

The person they dropped off just a few weeks before had been transformed. They sit a little straighter, stand a little taller and walk with a little more confidence because of a mindset shift that will be necessary for success in their new careers.

Bobby Pancake

Oh, and, by the way, they know how to make their bed.

Each year, 40,000 enlisted men and women graduate from the U.S. Air Force’s basic training. These Airmen go off to tech school to learn skills in security, nursing, fueling and maintenance, operating heavy machinery, welding and metalworking, hospitality and cooking … all the things that we do in our communities.

They serve.

They serve others, and they serve us. For a period of time, they commit their lives to protect the freedom that we often take for granted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduates about 1,000 officers per year. The sister services (Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy) add their 135,000, which means less than five percent of service-age citizens voluntarily enlist.

Whether it is drug use, alcohol use or criminal behavior, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find young people eligible to serve. Less than 1 percent of our citizens are currently serving in an active or reserve role. Our military may be the smallest it has ever been — but it is the strongest it has ever been.

Former President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote from his inaugural address needs to be impressed upon our young people, and their parents, now more than ever: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

The former Navy lieutenant is quoted as saying, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make their life worthwhile, I think can respond with a great deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’”

I did not serve in the military, and I can honestly say it is my life’s biggest regret.

The Honorary Commander Program at Dover Air Force Base allowed me to get on the other side of the fence and to learn about the jobs that these folks do. To appreciate the commitment and sacrifice that military families go through.

It opened my eyes to the skills that they learn, the leadership that they are exposed to and the education that they seek. I’ve had the honor to visit other bases, sit in the cockpit of a C-17 during takeoff, play corn-hole at 30,000 feet and watch a midair refueling over Lake Erie. I’ve visited the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and have witnessed how we treat our nation’s fallen with dignity, honor and respect.

As I moved into the Air Mobility Command (AMC) Civic Leader Program, I’ve gained access to senior leadership. I have been afforded the privilege of visiting other bases, and, last spring, the National Security Forum at Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base. I’ve lunched with four-star generals, high-fived new recruits and attended the retirement ceremony of AMC’s chief master sergeant, who retired at the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force.

When you close your eyes, what do you think about? Schools? Sports? Shopping? Friends? Very few of us think about whether or not we are going to be attacked. That’s because there is someone standing between the sheep and the wolves — trained airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who have taken an oath to serve.

They will defend our country with their lives.

They will not falter.

They will not fail.

They are now the future legacy of the greatest Air Force on Earth.

Bobby Pancake, of Bear, is an entrepreneur and Air Mobility Command Civic Leader.

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