JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
There are more trainees attending Air Force Basic Military Training than residents living in the small city of Garapan, Saipan, the hometown of Tech. Sgt. Eileen Echaluse, a Master Military Training Instructor at the 331st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Although she was from the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, she realized there had to be a better way of life outside her tiny village.
Echaluse was a member of her high school exhibition rifle drill team and an Army JROTC cadet; as a senior, she led her company as a cadet captain. So there was little hesitation in reaching out to her regional Air Force recruiter after graduating high school. She acknowledged she had no desire to attend an island college and there were no other substantial opportunities to grow.
“The Marines tried to recruit me first and they almost got me in there!” she said. “They were ready to send me to the military entrance processing station but I just felt like the Air Force was a better option for me. I sought out the Air Force recruiter from Guam and told him I was interested. Tech. Sgt. Frank Hernandez -- best recruiter ever!”
Before enlisting, Echaluse had zero ties to the Air Force. She didn’t know how long basic military training was or that it took place in San Antonio.
“Our Airmen come from all walks of life and they are seeking to make themselves a better version than the day before,” said Chief Master Sgt. Learie Gaitan, former 737th Training Group superintendent. “Eileen’s story is much like mine, an immigrant’s journey in the Air Force and now the superintendent of Air Force Basic Training -- who would have thought?”
Echaluse joined the Air Force in August 2011 and spent the first seven years of her career as a Services Craftsman. During her assignment at Fairchild AFB, Washington, she decided to apply for developmental special duty positions. Honor Guard Manager and Airman Leadership School Instructor were among her top choices. However, her final choice was to be an MTI and she was selected in March 2018. She was awarded her Master Military Training Instructor blue rope, Oct. 21, 2021.
Gaitan said that as an MTI, Echaluse is the first introduction many trainees have to the Air Force and that she sets the standards for what an NCO should be.
“Character isn’t built during a crisis, it’s revealed,” Gaitan said. “Tech. Sgt. Echaluse’s character is the epitome of an American Airman. Her steadfast devotion to helping the 737th TRG keep our training pipeline open speaks to the commitment of our Force Generators.”
“There is one thing that transcends every generation of Airmen — their commitment to serve our Air Force and our beloved nation,’’ Gaitan said. “I am truly proud of ’Ech’ – a young woman from a village in Garapan, who continues to improve not only herself but for our Air Force and Space Force.”
In 2020, as part of an ongoing contingency response to COVID-19 and to prove that locations other than JBSA-Lackland could also host BMT, Echaluse spent eight months leading trainees through BMT at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
The MTIs tasked with training and enforcing the standards while at Keesler AFB ensured that the intensity and training did not change because of the location.
“Training was intense,” Echaluse said. “The only thing about Keesler BMT that was different was the furniture, the dormitory, and the transit to and from the mini-mall. We pushed those trainees to learn quickly, perform every single day, and to become the standard for the future.”
Echaluse’s time as an MTI has taught her to multi-task at an ultimate level, increase her decision-making process and quickly problem-solve. With an upcoming permanent-change of station, Echaluse will use what she has learned at her next duty station.
“This job has made me connect with some of the best people I will ever meet and get to work with,” she said, who will be returning to her force support career field come March 2022. “This is the best job in the Air Force and being in charge of drill and ceremonies for the 331st Training Squadron is the cherry on top of it all. I would do it again.”