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NEWS | April 11, 2013

Customs & courtesies, attention to detail carry over after basic training

By Alex Salinas Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Sitting at his tidy desk, which he called "messy," Senior Master Sgt. Chip Coleman, 902nd Contracting Squadron superintendent, is surrounded by various plaques and awards on every wall in his office, gathered throughout a busy Air Force career. To Coleman, none bring back more memories than those he collected as a basic military training instructor.

After being a training instructor for a decade, which ended in 2010, Coleman said life after being a TI still takes getting used to.

Equipped with the "TI look" of a high-and-tight haircut and an intense stare, it's the intangibles fine-tuned from molding countless trainees that are truly imbedded in Coleman's character.

"I had high standards for myself and others when I was an instructor at technical school, before I was a TI," he said, "but after the experience, I became a perfectionist."

One example is folding clothes at home the same way he taught trainees in BMT, over and over again.
"Even my wife folds clothes the way I do," Coleman said.

Another example is having the "TI eyes," which means impeccable attention to detail, at work and in everyday life.

"My car's details have to look a certain way, my closet has to look a certain way, my desk has to look a certain way," Coleman said. "Fingerprints or dust on my cellphone screen, or on anything, bug me, so I wipe them constantly."

At first, Coleman also brought home sharp discipline, but quickly learned this attribute needed to be separated from his personal life.

"I used to be the disciplinarian (with my son)," he said. "I passed that baton to my wife. I dealt with disciplinary issues at work all day and that needed to stay at work. That made me a stronger husband and father."

The most prominent trait built into Coleman's current professional and personal life is respecting customs and courtesies, which "isn't a 'TI' thing to begin with," he said.

"I'm keen on military customs, from getting up when senior-ranking members walk into a room to using 'sir' and 'ma'am' for every exchange," he said. "This is something the Air Force and military expects from all of its members."

To this day, Coleman politely, but directly, corrects Airmen if he spots something incorrect with their uniforms - much nicer than when he addressed trainees - and said this habit "won't go away."

Though, only one person can contain it.

"My wife won't let me go to the Riverwalk on Saturdays anymore because I will correct Airmen in uniform," he said.

A former TI stationed at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, who was mentored by Coleman agreed that honoring customs and courtesies typically doesn't go away with former instructors.

"I'm a third-generation Airman and I'm from South Texas, so the 'yes, sirs' and 'no, ma'ams' have always been there for me, but being a TI made me value why I do it," Master Sgt. Rob Wick, San Antonio Military Medical Center NCO in charge of orthopedic services and Surgical Subspecialty Flight chief, said.

Wick, who was a TI from 2000 to 2005, said transitioning into the operational Air Force took time.

"I essentially played the role of TI and what it embodied, like an actor, and when I jumped ship into the world I'm in now, it was difficult," he said. "My habits and mannerisms needed adjustment, but my attention to detail and knowledge of being an NCO greatly improved."

Customs and courtesies or attention to detail is deeply ingrained in former TIs, but other changes can happen in the post-TI experience, Wick said.

Wick's changes led to positive results.

"I do a lot more listening and problem solving now than I did 10 years ago," he said. "I don't yell anymore because I don't have to."

In Wick's work environment, which is centered on patient care, basic military training habits like standing at attention are much less needed because "being too 'military' is intimidating for patients," he said.

"I deal with stress much better now than I did before," he added. "People remark on how calm I am. Handling things like stress is just easier now after being a TI."

In many ways, post-TI life requires a little bit of give and take, Wick said.

He said he eats meals so quickly he "can't remember what the food tastes like" and still takes speedy showers, but enjoys more time as a father, Wick said.

"Rob Wick and the TI were two different people," he said. "I made it a point to drive and not step foot into the door of my house until I was right to walk in.

"I keep work life as far apart from my home life as possible, which makes my relationships stronger."

The values from teaching Airmen to be fit to fight allow many former TIs to become "great mentors," Coleman, who is also a first sergeant, said. "Many of them have successful military careers while continuing to mentor and mold future leaders in the military."