Saturday, March 28, 2009
For those of you who are unaware -- as I was up until about two months ago -- Lackland AFB is the only location for Basic Military Training for the U.S. Air Force. It is a mammoth spread of 4.3 square miles and every single airman has endured boot camp here since 1947, when the USAF became its own branch. Boot camp terms have changed over the years; it's now about 8.5 weeks.
Jamie, my Little Brother since 1997 through Big Brothers Big Sisters, is 18. He was always kind and bright and well-intentioned, but he had a joke of a lower-school education, no study skills to speak of and very vague life intentions with no road map to get there. He also was starting to get into some minor trouble largely out of boredom and driving his mom nuts. So he enlisted in the Air Force and shipped out in January.
Until he ran by on Thursday morning during the traditional Airman's Run, we hadn't seen him at all. During boot camp, they have no phone, iPod, email, or other means of communications other than writing letters and, if he earned it, a few phone calls out. His mother received two or three calls, his girlfriend Melanie received four or five calls and those of us who wrote him received some letters. (I got three.)
So the first time we saw him since January was this moment...
...when he ran by us singing a "jody," the term for those holler-and-call ditties they and their TIs sing. Here's his flight (in grey) coming our way behind the green group.
The next time we saw him was a few hours later at his Coin Ceremony. This is when he receives his Airman's Coin, a token of his accomplishment that he is to have with him at all times, and recites the Airman's Oath. Evidently if he's in a bar and he doesn't have the coin, he has to pay. Or something like that. This was supposed to take place in a large square with all the week's recruits -- about 400 in all -- but torrential rains caused plans to change. Instead, we saw him get his with his and one other flight under the huge concrete overhang of his dormitory.
When we saw him for a second time, he was standing at attention and not permitted to acknowledge us. He looked so serious, see?
After the ceremony was over, he could not be at ease until we approached him. And that was a very wonderful but strange moment. He seemed a little overwhelmed by the sudden break in the numbing routine of exercise, make-work, intimidation, rules and isolation from his normal world. But then the sun came out! Here we are:
We had him until about 6 p.m. that night on base, and mostly we talked a lot. Jamie really wanted Burger King, but when we got to one, they, uh, had no burgers because the broiler was down.
So instead we made it to this mammoth Base Exchange with all sorts of fast food and stores...
...including a Claire's, a GameStop and hallway kiosks selling crapolina.
As you can see, Jamie shook off his awkwardness pretty quickly thanks to...
We all quickly became accustomed to a new Jamie, one extremely concerned about the scuff on his shoes, about the rules -- he can only eat sitting down, must wear his hat outside but not inside, must keep his clothing perfectly clean, can't show too much affection in public -- and about what he's doing with his life. But an ice cream sundae is still a delight and he actually concocted a list of foods he hoped to have over this weekend, every one involving sugar.
Friday was graduation day, which meant a big parade on the parade grounds. The perimeter of the grounds is lined with various models of planes that we'll get to take a closer look at on Sunday.
To give you some idea of just how many men and women graduate boot camp EVERY week, this is a shot of the entire graduating class for March 27, 2009:
One thing that struck me is that there were lots and lots of people from all over the nation there to show their pride for their relatives and their nation and, unlike the phony for-show patriotism of folks at NASCAR or NRA events, notice something interesting about this crowd shot?
Besides the three in the second row with their cameras pointed at me -- Jamie's mom, grandma and girlfriend -- the reason I like this photo is because you'll notice not a single person is decked out in red, white and blue. They don't need to prove to anyone they love their country. I was surprised and certain I'd be smothered by the Stars and Stripes.
Of course who needs red, white and blue when you've got swag like this...
Everyone was so proud. I just love this shot with Jamie:
And there's a very proud momma...
After the graduation ceremony, which involved lots of marching and patriotic songs from the band, Jamie was able to show us his dorm. Here's what it looked like from the outside:
That's the aforementioned dormitory and overhang where the graduation occurred. I'm kind of embarrassed to say I didn't shoot anything of the dorm room, a large room with lines of beds, both bunk beds and singles, with neatly tucked wool blankets. I'll grab some off Jamie's dad, who did shoot some, and post them another time, but here he is at his locker:
And this is his clothes drawer...
We walked a ton all over Lackland on Friday before leaving the base for San Antonio, the Riverwalk and the Alamo. I'll conclude this post with something that reminded me of Nevada...
Nellis! As in our hometown AFB! Speaking of which, yes it is possible Jamie could end up there. He is off on Monday to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. He landed the job he wanted, munitions, and now he goes for his 8 weeks of training, then gets a couple weeks off to come home before he is stationed somewhere. Could be Nellis, could be Italy. He put in a list of preferences which could be considered, could be ignored.
That's it for the moment. More tomorrow.