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Military training instructors transform recruits into Airmen

Staff Sgt. Robert George, a military training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, marches his unit following the issuance of uniforms and gear.  Recruits are molded into warrior Airmen through a recently expanded Air Force Basic Military Training program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

Staff Sgt. Robert George, a military training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, marches his unit following the issuance of uniforms and gear. Recruits are molded into warrior Airmen through a recently expanded Air Force Basic Military Training program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Rising at 3 a.m. is a small sacrifice for military training instructors. The future of the Air Force awaits.

With uniforms in perfect order, they pull the immediately identifiable campaign hats low and straight, down their foreheads to nearly the eyebrows. With stern voices and stoic physical presences, they direct raw recruits who scramble into a unit formation. It's the start of another day during an eight-and-a-half week indoctrination in becoming warrior Airmen. Many soon will serve overseas or in a war zone.

A few hundred military training instructors, or MTIs, serve here including four men from El Paso, Texas. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ricardo A. Chavez, Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Gordon, Staff Sgt. Eddie L. Herrera Jr. and Staff Sgt. Raul Lopez Jr., are assigned to the 737th Training Group.

Each MTI is the face and example of the Air Force for hundreds of basic trainees throughout the year with 35,000 new recruits graduating annually at the Air Force's only enlisted basic training facility. They mold recruits through a recently overhauled and expanded to eight-and-a-half week Air Force Basic Military Training program with a curriculum today that focuses on a 'warrior first' philosophy. Seven days a week they facilitate basic war skills, military bearing, discipline, physical fitness, drill and ceremonies, Air Force core values and subjects relating to Air Force life.

The duties and responsibilities for training recruits are extensive.

"Our job is to take young men and women and mold them into future Air Force military members," said Sergeant Herrera. We give them the principles and basics to lead and maintain a proper military life."

A job recognized within military ranks as 'downright tough,' MTIs are dedicated in giving recruits what they need to become successful Air Force warriors.

"Our mission is tough due to different personalities and backgrounds found in the young men and women," said Sergeant Lopez. "They challenge us each day. We are the first examples of military professionals to these young folks. Our jobs require total dedication to ensure they get the best training."

They often work 14 to 18 hour a days, seven-days a week. The Air Force is actively recruiting additional MTIs to fill their vacancies and ultimately reduce workloads. And although they work long hours, the men and women serving as MTIs hold an extreme sense of pride in knowing they are taking young people off the streets and molding them into Airmen.

"It's an indescribable feeling I get working with these young Americans, which allows me to return each and every day," said Sergeant Chavez.

"It's by far the greatest feeling in the world to see someone transformed from a civilian off the street into an Airmen who is fit to serve anywhere around the world in our Air Force," said Sergeant Gordon.

These MTIs hold broad Air Force backgrounds, making them model mentors for recruits.

Sergeant Chavez has served in the Air Force for eight years and previously was a security forces instructor. Sergeant Gordon previously served as a crew chief on a C-141 Starlifter and a B-1B Lancer. He has been in the Air Force 14 years. Sergeant Herrera was a helicopter engine maintainer before becoming an MTI. He has served eight years. He plans to stay in the Air Force and hopes to achieve the top enlisted rank of chief master sergeant. Sergeant Lopez worked in the fuels career field before becoming an MTI. He has served for nearly 12 years and deployed to Southwest Asia in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Without their yelling, long days, warrior training or marching step by step with recruits, the Air Force could fall short of meeting its future missions. But tomorrow these MTIs again will rise early, ensuring the recruits learn the tools they may need to survive.