By Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, 109th AW Public Affairs
/ Published May 20, 2015
STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- Trainees recently underwent a big change within Student Flight - more structure, more physical training and more guidance all to better prepare them for their first step in becoming an Airman at Basic Military Training.
In January, Chief Master Sgt. Amy Giaquinto, 109th Airlift Wing command chief, approached the Chief's Council to ask for their help in reinvigorating the Student Flight. The chiefs, along with Force Support Squadron leadership, assessed the program and found that many trainees were leaving for Basic Military Training not as prepared as they should have been. Physical training was rarely accomplished, if at all, and with no cadre to hold the trainees accountable, there really wasn't much structure or guidance for the flight.
In March, all of that changed. The chiefs worked closely with Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Archibald, Base Training Manager who oversees the program, in creating a more structured program with the primary goal to "ensure 100-percent graduation rate at BMT," said Chief Master Sgt. Vincent Princiotto of the 109th Logistics Readiness Squadron. He was one of the chiefs to help rebuild the program, along with Chief Master Sgt. Mark Schaible, 109th LRS, and Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Walters, 109th Security Forces Squadron.
The program is now structured to follow basic training as much as possible with physical training, terminology, structure, scheduling and memory work. It also includes four phases; the first for the newest trainees, and the fourth for those who are in a "break-in-training," meaning they have graduated Basic Military Training but are waiting to go to technical school.
"It's better that they're doing it this way now," said Airman 1st Class Gregory Discipio who is currently in Phase 4 of the program. He graduated basic training in September, and once he completes technical school, will be part of the Services Flight. "If you're in break-in-training, it helps to stay in that mentality."
Along with Discipio, Airman Andrea Rivera is also part of the Phase 4 program and will be with the Force Support Squadron once she graduates technical school. She graduated basic training in April. Both Airmen are experiencing a much different flight than when they both started the program.
"Before we'd just sit in a classroom and have someone come in and talk to us about things like the core values," Rivera said. Discipio and Rivera agreed that the trainees who haven't left for basic training yet will be much more prepared than they were with the new structure.
"The training they receive is really dependent on the trainee to learn," said Master Sgt. Garrett Cowsert, flight cadre. "We go over some basic information like reporting statements and the basics of facing movements, but push hard for them to learn a lot of memory work. We educate them about their PT responsibilities, and do PT but encourage them to be proactive on their own the other 28 days out the month until we see them again."
The Student Flight now has cadre working with them every Unit Training Assembly. Along with the team of three cadre, is a chief who acts as a "liaison for the Student Flight and the cadre and the rest of the wing to remove any roadblocks," said Schaible, who is the current chief assigned to the flight. The goal will be for each team to work in six-month rotations. They needed a strong group for the first team of cadre, and reached out to Cowsert, who had been a cadre with Student Flight years before; Master Sgt. Marlene Frankovic, who had served as a first sergeant; and Tech. Sgt. Michael Crouse, a former full-time Stratton Base Honor Guard member.
"The cadre are a good balance," said Trainee James McPartlin about the cadre's approach to instructing. He is set to leave for basic training in July and started with the flight in September. "They're tough on us when they need to be, but they're also not overbearing. I think I'll be genuinely ready for basic training."
"Even though we are hard on them, they get it," said Crouse of the trainees. "We're setting them up for success. It's not personal. We're not yelling at them because we don't like them, we're just trying to set a foundation so they can maximize their success."
"I really believe this is going to help prepare me for basic training," said Trainee Bradley Collyer who just began the program over the May UTA. "I think they're giving us exactly what we need to get ready, and I feel lucky to be getting this now - months before even going to basic."
It may be a little too early to tell how successful the program will be for basic training since it's so new, but the cadre said they are already receiving positive feedback from the trainees. Crouse also said the flight's camaraderie among each other is great. "They really help each other out; we're teaching them to be good wingmen, and most of them already have been," he said.
"We need to help our new members get off to a positive start and give them the training and support to be the best new additions to the wing we can," said Cowsert. "Keep in mind that these trainees will be replacing all of us at some point. It's key to instill the foundations of integrity, service before self and excellence and teamwork along with the wingman concept. The trainees have a unique opportunity to network with each other early on as they all are filling slots across the base."
Cowsert said the success of the program is dependent on the support of all of those within the wing.
"This program will only continue to grow with the support and dedication of those of us here at the 109th who want to help develop professional Airmen and get involved," he said. "We need our First Six to help come and teach some of the education pieces that are being built into the program; we need our senior noncommissioned officers to become cadre and use their time and unique experiences to help mentor the trainees."
"It is the perfect time to breathe new life into the Student Flight program with the release of the Air National Guard Ancillary Training Program," said Giaquinto. "Student Flight members are a part of this wing, and they deserve to be set up for success as they start their military career. With this new program, they are going to get just that!"