JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
When 20-year-old Holly Vaught walked into an Air Force recruiter’s office in the summer of 2003, she was by her own account, emotionally lost with $2 and a half tank of gas to her name. She admitted her motive to join the Air Force was selfish: “I needed something to save me from me.”
Not only did she find that “something,” she went on to excel in a position that she says gives back to “something bigger than myself, something that had saved and given me my life.” Now a master sergeant, Vaught is a Master Military Training Instructor and the training superintendent with the 326th Training Squadron. She was recently named the 2020 Blue Rope of the Year.
Vaught credits the Air Force with turning her life around.
“When I walked into the recruiter’s office, Master Sgt. Rapp – I’ll never forget him – looked at me and knew I needed help. He got me a job at their family fried chicken shop/gas station, and gave me study material to pass the ASVAB, which took me three times,” she said.
“But he never gave up on me. Even in the months leading up to leaving for basic I had people who didn’t believe that I would commit. That was the type of person I was, untrustworthy. I lacked character. I was lost. Feb. 10, 2004, was the day my life started,” Vaught said.
BMT was a blur for the young trainee.
“I remember being very quiet. I was a chapel guide. I remember struggling with PT, but what I remember most about it was how fast it went by,” she said. The thought of becoming an MTI “never, not even once,” entered her mind.
Vaught went into security forces and thought she’d found the career she’d do her entire Air Force career. But the Air Force had other plans.
“My command chief at the time had a last-minute tasker to vector one female tech sergeant in our wing and he vectored me,” she said. “I wasn’t happy, but after talking to him about the decision he explained how he had to vector his best female tech sergeant and he knew I would be made for this.”
She proved him right after she started leading her first flight.
“So many rewards come with this job. First and foremost is the obvious: watching a civilian step foot on Lackland and over a short period of time watching them grow into this confident and committed Airman,” Vaught said. “As an MTI, you in reality become the very first impression of what a professional is and should be. When I meet parents for the first time and hear them ask, ‘How did you do it? How did you change my son/daughter in a matter of seven weeks? They look and act so different in a good way,” is something I will always remember.”
Vaught added that another reward is the relationship the MTIs develop with each other.
“This enterprise brings so many of us together from all walks of the Air Force. When you hear an MTI call each other ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’ that’s real!” she said. “We are a family and just as much as the trainees grow into phenomenal Airmen, our MTIs are growing into phenomenal NCOs, senior NCOs and leaders.”
Some of Vaught’s accomplishments this past year include developing and standardizing 23 COVID-19 safety measures that resulted in zero mission degradation. She developed a new system and buying plan for the BMT linen program, saving the Air Force $133,000. Vaught also served as the MTI Week project officer, chaired the BMT Lean event, and is the Blue Rope Association president
Vaught is “the epitome of everything that is right with our senior NCO corps,” according to her commander, Lt. Col. Sean Fellows.
“Her ability to seamlessly weave her commitment to our mission and her passion for our people sets her apart,” Fellows said. “In a sign of true leadership, Master Sgt. Vaught motivates, trains and inspires her peers as they forge the world’s greatest weapon system – the American Airman!”
The Airmen whose lives Vaught has impacted number over 1,000. And while she never dreamed of becoming an MTI, her advice to anyone who may be thinking of it is “Do it!”
“Not only are you changing lives, you are adding so much to your leadership toolbox. This journey will take you through 15 different waves of emotions, but knowing that you had a hand in creating the future of our Air Force is something that only a small percentage of the Air Force can say they have done,” Vaught said. “The relationships you gain with one another is a bond that will greater than any other bond you will create in the Air Force. Some of my very best friends that I call family have been the ones I developed here in BMT.”
“For 45 years we’ve been recognizing the top 10% of our of our MTI corps as Blue Ropes – Master Military Training Instructors. They represent the very best that BMT has to offer. For Master Sgt. Vaught to be named Blue Rope of the Year shows that the legacy continues,” said Col. Michael Newsom, 737th Training Group commander. “She is truly a ‘waterfall’ that continues to pour into building ready and lethal Airmen and mentoring other Airmen to be better. I am very proud of Master Sgt. Vaught and all her accomplishments.”