Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

November 11, 2011 at 3:43am

McChord center helps new Airmen adjust to active duty

Photo by David Poe Staff Sgt. Amaya Talley briefs students as part of the First Term Airman Center program at McChord Field, Thursday.

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A year before, and in some cases only months before, many were wide-eyed young people fresh out of high school. Some were 20-somethings looking for a new start. Some slunk in their chairs, some spoke to neighbors in class while their instructors spoke. Some cared more about the new text messages on their phones than anything else, and some had never done a sit up or pushup in their lives.

Today is different. Fresh from Air Force technical schools across the country, McChord Field's First Term Airmen Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the "Go" square on the Monopoly board that is their new duty station. Sharp uniforms, crisp haircuts and military bearing fill the classroom - Airmen from all points of the map. It's here where they get their first tastes of everyday active-duty Air Force life.

"FTAC was originally a place where you would send Airmen that were new to a base to be a labor crew," Tech. Sgt. Monique DuBose, FTAC's NCO-in-charge, said. "They'd come here, maybe see a few things on the base, but would do more of what we called the ‘weeds and seeds' type of projects before they reached their units."

The FTAC program, an Air Forcewide initiative, had more of a workforce approach since its inception in 1976, and DuBose said it was one of the service's top enlisted men who changed that in the late 1980s.

"It was Chief (Master Sergeant James) Binnicker, our ninth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, that said ‘professional development needs to start now,'" she said, pertaining to the Airmens' first days and weeks at their first duty station. "He felt they needed to hit the ground running and it's evolved quite a bit."

While their orders may read otherwise, for 10 days they are ‘F-tackers.' Their new units wait as leadership puts their concerns on the new Airmen as individuals, making sure they have all the tools they need to get started on their careers, both at McChord Field and in the Air Force in general.

"You can't just say over the phone ‘get here and do this,'" DuBose said of incoming Airmen, especially those new to the Air Force, "you need to see their faces. I'm here because I want to make sure everything is taken care of. When they go back to their units, they're ready to go to work."

Instruction includes personal topics such as understanding their Tricare benefits and continuing education programs, learning new resilience tools, as well as checking out the installation's FMWR program.

There's also professional development intended to set the tone for their roles in their new units. FTAC Airmen do PT together, conduct mock PT tests, undergo multiple uniform inspections and safety briefings more as a continuation of healthy habits than a transition to active-duty life. DuBose said the Airmen move on to their units with good understandings of where they are and what they need to do.

"We do everything; if they have pay issues, medical issues, before they get back to work, they'll be taken care of," she said. "Some people leave here knowing they'll deploy very soon; we'll do fit tests for chemical protective gear and let them know what to expect on the deployment line ... that happens here." `

She also said that while the Air Force requires certain blocks of instruction for any FTAC program, there's also room for local instructors to shape their students' experiences, a benefit she said she appreciates as a veteran Airman.

"We've been changing some of the curriculum and adding new things; making it the best for them," she said, "such as the new ‘resiliency piece.' Back in the day we were told to ‘embrace the suck;' these Airmen don't need to do that. They need to know if they're having issues there are places for them to go."

While he may be new to the active-duty Air Force, Airman 1st Class Evan Rosenboom, an Airman with the 62nd Operations Support Squadron and a former Air National Guardsman, said in his final day of instruction he appreciated the program because he knew firsthand on what it's like to be overwhelmed in a new military situation.

"When I came through with the Guard, I had to find out a lot of stuff myself," the aviation resource manager said, "but here they offer this one place for a lot of information."

By publication, Airmen from FTAC Class 11-18 have already checked in at their new shops and are new members of teams across McChord Field. If one Airman's opinion can speak for the class, they and their units are better off thanks to their adjustment time spent with FTAC.

"(The permanent duty station) is a professional setting and this is my job," Airman 1st Class Kierra Harrison, a new Airman with the 10th Airlift Squadron, said. "FTAC has helped me ensure that I'm keeping myself on track - it's work time."

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