JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Master Sgt. Kelli Jackson and Staff Sgt. Derius Jackson know their job as military training leaders, or MTLs, is critical to the development of the Air Force’s newest Airmen.
Sporting a blue aiguillette, or rope, as an identifier, MTLs across the Air Force are charged with helping new Airmen transition to the operational Air Force after graduating from basic military training. This includes giving the technical training students the tools they need to become efficient at their job and teaching them about the resources available on base that can help with life outside of work.
K. Jackson, 558th Flying Training Squadron superintendent and MTL, learned early on that her role can sometimes take a different form that reaches far beyond the scope of acclimating Airmen to the operational Air Force, especially during the holidays.
There was a particular Airman that came through the Basic Sensor Operator Course over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2013, when K. Jackson had just started as an MTL.
The Airman was very close to her mother and had some problems going on at home, which she sought guidance from K. Jackson about. At the end of the student’s training, her mother was unable to come to graduation, and like any good supervisor, K. Jackson asked if there was anything she could do to help.
“She said, ‘No, the only thing I need you to do is stand in my mother’s place and pin my wings on me for her,” K. Jackson recalled.
“That kind of brought me – not in front of her – to tears, because I never knew our Airmen looked at us like that, as these parent figures or these big brother, big sister, type figures. That’s stuck with me ever since.”
While K. Jackson now has a few years as an MTL under her belt, D. Jackson just arrived to the 558th FTS in July. He said he’s already been able to see the impact he can have on Airmen as a mentor.
“An Airman was coming in to his job not really knowing what he was getting in to, so it was hard for him those first two weeks,” D. Jackson, 558th FTS assistant flight chief and MTL, said. “It took a lot of mentoring between me, the instructors and the chaplain to get him focused on what was at hand – the big picture.
“He left me a note on my board, and he thanked me for being patient with him and sitting down and mentoring him,” D. Jackson continued. “It’s those moments for me, seeing the growth and being able to communicate to the Airmen.”
The MTLs also know that for a lot of the Airmen who attend BSOC during the winter, this is their first time away from family during the holidays.
“We make it our business to try to send them home,” K. Jackson said. “See your family, see your friends, go back to your own neighborhood and be that Air Force ambassador, and then come back reenergized and ready to go.”
But for Airmen unable to make it home, sometimes this means going the extra mile to ensure they aren’t stuck alone in their dorms on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
For Tech. Sgt. Joseph Eckman, 558th FTS BSOC flight chief, that meant welcoming a couple of Airmen into his own home for Thanksgiving.
“Master Sergeant Jackson sent out an email looking or people willing to support some of our students over Thanksgiving,” Eckman said. “I remember what it was like to be a brand new Airman in the Air Force and wanted to do everything I possibly could to alleviate them missing their families over the holiday.”
Just as the MTLs job is to continue the foundations set in BMT – principles like, “I will never leave an Airman behind,” from the Airman’s Creed – K. Jackson said they will continue to operate with that some concept in mind: “leave no Airman behind in the dorms during the holidays.”