By Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, 109th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 12, 2009
STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- Many soon-to-be Airmen show up at Basic Military Training not sure what to expect -- whether it's the physical, educational or emotional demands training can put on new trainees. But those who join the 109th Airlift Wing have a little bit of an advantage when they show up at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, thanks to Stratton's BRATS program.
The Basic Recruits Attending Training at Stratton program began about 10 years ago when some supervisors weren't sure what to do with incoming Airmen who had to wait to go to Basic Training. Throughout the years, the program has turned into a full-fledged flight that currently has more than 60 members - the most the program has ever had.
According to their mission statement, "The mission of the BRATS Management Team is to prepare new recrutis as they transition from civilian life to successful (Air National Guard) careers by providing structured leadership, training and core valutes that allow them to excel at the physical and mental challenges of today's Air Force."
Now, more than ever, going to basic training prepared is essential. In November, Basic Military Training extended from six weeks to 8 1/2 weeks, and now includes the BEAST. The Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training course introduces Airmen to the joint expeditionary concept and immerses them in deployment scenarios, according to an article in Airman Magazine.
Airman 1st Class Vincent Pricolo was the first 109th AW member to experience the new training program.
"(BRATS) gave me more confidence going into basic training," he said. "There's things (during training) I had already learned -- I'm glad I got to go through it. There weren't as many surprises (as I think there could have been if I hadn't gone through BRATS.)"
Airman Pricolo graduated from training in January. He is currently awaiting his technical school and is scheduled to leave at the end of July. Airman Pricolo enlisted Nov. 8, 2007, and the following month he started the BRATS program here. Now, he's back with the program, but in a different role.
"I'm basically there to help everyone out," he said. "I give them a lot of advice. There were quite a few people who came back to talk to us about basic training. It's really helpful."
"(Airman Pricolo) stepped in, and he gave a great program to the rest of the group," said Master Sgt. Donna Roper, BRATS cadre. "We are utilizing him for his experience until he leaves for tech school. He's basically the class leader. Usually trainees don't get a break between basic and tech school, but because of those career fields that are lacking in available classes, once in awhile we get a member who is back with us after BMT before they go to tech school. And those are the people whose leadership skills we try to hone. They're our assistants at that point, but they do participate fully within the flight."
Each Unit Training Assembly (UTA), the BRATS program kicks off at 7:30 a.m.
"Each day (of the UTA) we are doing inspections, drill and ceremony (marching and facing movements), and uniform inspections," Sergeant Roper said. "Even if they don't have their uniforms issued yet, they still have to meet certain standards and are inspected. Such as a clean-cut haircut, men must be shaven, and women must have their hair and nails within regulations."
The program also includes academic instruction. Some topics covered include the Airmen's Creed, the Air Force Song, the Core Values and rank structure. The BRATS also learn what will be required of them during wall locker inspections. And while they've always included weapons training, the program has recently increased that training to fall in line with the new 8 1/2 week BMT.
"We try to cover any of the topics they are going to be exposed to at basic training," Sergeant Roper said. "That's what we focus on, because our goal is to prepare them for that day that they arrive at basic training. It also includes a big deal of getting them into the correct military bearing - the sense of urgency, respect, common customs and courtesies - how to give a proper reporting statement so they will know how to address their TIs. When to salute, when not to salute, when to call the room to attention -- everything they'll need to know for basic training."
Sergeant Roper said going through the BRATS program gives trainees a big advantage during basic training.
"We have a very high success rate -- a lot of our BMT graduates graduate with honors," Sergeant Roper said. "They each fill out a comprehensive survey when they get back to give us feedback on the program, and the feedback is very positive. Most of them feel that they were with people in other units who did not have a program like our BRATS program, and they felt like they were leaps and bounds beyond their classmates at BMT."
Airman 1st Class Sabrena Healey, an intelligance analyst with the 109th AW, went through the BRATS program for three months before leaving for Basic Training in May 2008.
"I found it extremely helpful," she said. "Coming into the military was something so outside of my realm. I had no prior anything with the military - no family, no experience, nothing! So going into basic, I actually felt right on key with a lot of the other trainees who had been a part of ROTC."
She said some of the specific things taught during BRATS that helped her out during training were basic facing movements, reporting statements, dress and appearance, wall locker inspections, the Airmen's Creed and physical training.
"Learning to tear down the weapons was also a huge help," she said. "I was definitely one of the fastest in my flight thanks to BRATS."
The program has been such a success, that other Air National Guard units have come to the 109th Airlift Wing for advice on how to get a similar program started.
And to make things a little more interesting, BRATS will add a little Air Force-Army competition to the mix.
"This summer we're going to having a competition with the Army's version of the BRATS program, competing with weapons qualification, PT, drill and ceremony," Sergeant Roper said.
For those still waiting to leave for basic training, Airman Pricolo said, "Definitely get in shape, be mentally strong, train themselves to deal with yelling. They yell a lot at the BEAST. There's a lot of positive motivation, but they have zero tolerance."