JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Ten Military Training Instructors from the 37th Training Wing donned legacy Air Force uniforms, dating from 1947 to the present, as they posed for a photographer at the Airman Heritage Museum on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland June 24 to help create a new mural to decorate the walls of the Military Training Instructor Schoolhouse.
“We’re doing a timepiece from the start of the Air Force up until right now,” said Senior Master Sgt. Paul Watts, commandant of the MTI schoolhouse. “A lot of the MTIs don’t know this history. This way, we could show them, in a visual, where we started out as an MTI corps and where we’ve gone along the way.”
This Living History project is more than three months in the making, Watts said. It all started when his boss, Chief Master Sgt. Leary Gaitan, the BMT superintendent, came up to him and asked why the MTI schoolhouse didn’t have a mural.
They began looking at other squadrons and how they displayed their history. Then, they assembled a team of MTIs to model the uniforms, scheduled a photographer, and brought in the historians at the Airman Heritage Museum, along with retired Lt. Col. David Shultz, the education and outreach program manager for the Airman Heritage Foundation, which donated the uniforms.
Shultz was more than happy to assist them on this project, as one of the Airman Heritage Foundation’s key missions is to educate current and future Airmen and the general public about the U.S. Air Force and the role enlisted Airmen have played in its success.
“We've got literally hundreds of Air Force uniforms. With that collection – since the museum can't loan anything out – we can support things like air shows, Air Force balls, all sorts of events for an entire region of this country,” Shultz said. “We go to Colorado, we go to Mississippi; we go all over the place to support Air Force functions.”
Fernando Cortez, the Airman Heritage Museum curator, is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Airman Heritage Foundation for this project and others like it.
“If you would have asked us five years ago to do this event, we wouldn't have had hardly anything,” he said. “The foundation is finding and buying the rare uniforms, specimen badges and regalia, so now we can draw from that collection.”
Those who took part enjoyed the event, and one MTI was especially enthusiastic about her historic attire.
Master Sgt. Christina Richard put on bright red lipstick and did her hair in the style of a woman serving in the Women in the Air Force, or WAFs, in the 1950s. Shultz showed her pictures of how the women looked from a history book, and she also searched online to get an idea of how to show up for the photoshoot.
Getting into character as a WAF took Richard about thirty minutes and lots of hair gel.
“There were a ton of bobby pins, and I kept having to readjust them because my hair is naturally curly, so every time I put one in, a curl would pop out,” she said.
Richard reflected on how times have changed. In the 1950's, the loose, spiraling tendrils around her face would have been acceptable, but now, all the hair has to be secured back in a sleek bun.
“Men didn't really care, and they were probably wanting women to look nicer back then,” she speculated. “Now, the focus is more on women’s work ethic.”
The photos were taken by Master Sgt. Timothy Nadolny, non-commissioned officer in charge of Deliberate Leadership Development at the MTI schoolhouse.
Photography is a hobby of his, picked up when he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, so he offered his services for the mural project. In shooting the photos, he hoped to evoke an understanding of the responsibility and honor of an MTI.
“As new instructors get to MTIS, the mural will be that first impression of what it means to mold civilians into Airmen, and the road ahead of them,” Nadolny said. “That sense of awe that they’ll get from it, I think that’s what we’re going for.”
The Airmen of the past have come and gone, and the military is a place of major transitions, as is life. Everyone who came together for this project spoke openly about the passage of time and their own career and life progression, but on this one day, they hoped to capture the past as a legacy for those to come after them.
“It is kind of fun for me to do this because I have a big appreciation for it myself,” Shultz said. “I am the guy who tries to put these kinds of things together, but I'm getting old. I'm trying to leave behind people who would take my place and do basically the same thing. It's a passion for remembrance.”
Watts, too, is on his way out. He is moving to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and he already has his successor, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Tutterow, who will see the project to completion. Watts said he may never see the mural up on the wall, but he is glad that he had a hand in getting the project going.
“It’s really nice seeing it all come together,” he said. “It’s been a really cool project. It’s been fun for me. I’ve learned a whole lot.”
The hope is that others will as well.