Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Joined the Air Force?

Today’s Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If Wednesday is written by me as told by Ariel over the long graduation weekend. 

They may be known by other branches of the military as the “Chair Force,” but these Airmen had to go through their own physically- and mentally-demanding basic training just like every other branch of the U.S. Military to learn teamwork, precision, and discipline. Read on:

Name: Ariel
Age: 20
Current City: Monterey, California
Current Job: student at Defense Language Institute for Cryptologic Linguist – Arabic

Why did you join the Air Force?
To be a part of something.

What does joining the Air Force mean?
Before joining the Air Force, you have to undergo physical and academic tests. Most people don’t even pass the basic physical tests. Do you have asthma? You’re out. Do you pee out too much iron? You’re gone. Too skinny? Too fat? Too short? Gone. Gone. Gone. Once you’re through, it means 8 weeks of Basic Military Training (BMT) at the Lackland Air Force base outside of San Antonio, Texas. By the end of training, you will be assigned a job and be sent to a new base somewhere around the country for tech school.

What was a regular day at Basic Training like?
We were literally busy from 4 AM to 9 PM. It went something like this: Wake up at 4 AM. Make bed. Go running outside for 30 minutes or do an hour physical training (PT). Back to dorm for “details” — chores that we are assigned. We basically clean the dorm from top to bottom. March to breakfast. About 2 minutes to eat. Go to classes (Air Force history, military rankings, etc.). Lunch. Drills outside all afternoon. Dinner. More “details” inside even though we were gone all day. Might include cleaning classrooms, etc. Lights out at 9 PM. There wasn’t always time to shower. On Fridays we worked the food hall from about 2 AM to 9 PM. I was also assigned a guard shift each week which could be from 12 AM to 2 AM. Then back up at 4 AM. Oh, and how can I forget: there’s no cell phones, computers, or TVs the entire time. The only contact we had with our families were through letters (if we had time to even read them) and maybe a call once a week on Sunday.

People do get kicked out. For example, if you lie that you don’t have asthma, but you do, they’ll find out. Don’t lie about an injury that you don’t have because you’re too tired to march. The quickest way to get out of BMT is to complete the 8 weeks and graduate. If you are injured or lie, you’ll be kept on base for months — until you’re healed, until you get a meeting time, until you get a doctor’s appointment, etc. We got out of there before the people who were trying to con their way out.

What was the hardest week of training?
Beast Week. We were living in the middle of nowhere and had to construct our tents and eat food out of packets in the intense heat. Really scary tornado-like sandstorm came through and blew our whole campsite apart.

Did you have any freedom?
We could go to the mall on base like twice a month and deduct money from our bank accounts. I went to the salon in the mall twice. I came to BMT with blonde hair, then had it dyed red, then dyed it brunette. The Training Instructors (TIs) made fun of me, but they liked my brunette the most.

What did you wear?
We have our “blues.” That is the navy blue hat, navy blue pants or skirt, light blue short-sleeve button-up shirt, and shoes (along with a jacket and blazer). We also had a shirt and shorts for Physical Training. We also wore camouflage tops, pants, and hat with boots for marching. (Yes, there are camos out there with an “ANDRUS” patch!)

What was the base like?
There are 2 mini malls and one big mall (called BX for Base Exchange and Mini BX) with chain restaurants like Starbucks and Baskin Robbins, along with Claire’s, Game Stop, and a department store that has clothes, Coach purses, Macs, TVs, furniture, and anything else you need. There’s a Burger King, Starbucks, bank, tennis courts, pools, work-out facilities, BBQ restaurant, adventure recreation center, dorms, duplexes, parade field, horse stables, lawn and garden center, grocery store, church, elementary school, middle school, high school, bowling alley, movie theater, and gas stations. Most of the stuff I listed is for the Airmen and other military members who are attending tech school on base, those who are working on base, and those who live on base with their families. We only occasionally enjoyed the mall. No tennis or bowling for us! But basically, you never need to leave base for anything.

What are some of the rules?

We had a brother squadron but we weren’t allowed to talk or even look at them even though we ate with them, marched with them, did physical training with them, attended class with them, and lived down the hall from them for 8 weeks. The only time we were finally allowed to speak with them was Beast Week.

We couldn’t wear makeup. Our hair has to be very short or in a low tight bun. The guys have to get buzz cuts. Lights out at 9 PM. No falling asleep in church. Everyone gets called by their last names so everyone knew me as “Andrus.” I didn’t even learn most girls’ first names. We have to follow the rule “No Airman gets left behind” and we have “wingmen” to help each other. If we are coming home after dark, we must have our flashlights with us, and we can’t march back alone. We must be with at least one other Airman.

When we are wearing our Air Force uniform (“blues”), we can’t walk while talking on a cell phone or drinking out of a water bottle. We can’t wear sunglasses. We have to take off our hats when we’re indoors. Our belt has to be polished. The edge of our belt has to line up with the button part of our shirt which lines up with the fly of our pants. Our shoes have to be shined. Nylons have to be worn with the skirt. You have to wear a white bra. No holding hands with a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife while in uniform. We have to carry around this coin (pictured) in our pocket at all times.

Did you get in trouble for anything?
I got yelled at by my TI for smiling too much. Also, when we first got to BMT, we had to empty our suitcases in front of everyone and the TIs yelled at me for bringing a bathing suit. (It was packed in my suitcase because I went swimming in the hotel in Minnesota the night before we flew to Texas.) “Do you think you’ll have time to go swimming?” and “Do you think this is summer camp?!” was what they said. Then they also yelled at me for bringing an entire photo album with like 700 photos.

What’s the most random thing you learned how to do?
I can take an M-16 apart and put it back together in under 2 minutes with my eyes closed. (However, there was only one day of training where we actually had to shoot the gun. If we ever had to carry a gun around, it was a basically a fake gun.)

What are you doing now?
On Monday, I moved to a base at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California which is insanely beautiful by the way. I’m not completely sure what this will be like, but I know that the Air Force will be nothing like BMT (which is good!). In a couple weeks, I’ll start classes which will last about a year and a half. It’s kind of like private school. I’ll have to wear a uniform, go to physical training 3 days per week, and stay on base for the first two months. After that, I’ll be able to leave the base for vacations and holidays. Soon after that, I can start wearing civilian clothing again. 🙂

Congratulations, Airman Andrus! I am so proud of you!


Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Trained For a Marathon?

One of my best friends Molly and her husband Adam are training for an upcoming marathon in their current hometown of Juneau, Alaska. Read how their training is going and why they decided to run a marathon. I’ll be sure to check in with them after the race!

Name: Adam and Molly Zaleski
Age: both 26
Occupation: Grad students – Masters of Science in Fisheries
Current City: Juneau, AK

Would you say that you were “always a runner?” How did you start running?
: I definitely was not always a runner. I started really running in college to hang out with Adam at the gym, but even then I could only run about 1 mile at a time. I was more motivated to just finish so that I could sit in the hot tub. Early training involved treadmills with TVs in front.

What was your first race, and what races have you done since then?
Adam: Our first race was Healthy Bodies, Healthy Bays 5K in the Hamptons our junior year of college. We’ve done a lot of 5Ks and 10Ks since then. Molly even ran a race on Dutch Harbor. Our favorite is the Run for the Ridley 5K in Riverhead, NY, so much so that we flew back to Long Island just for the race when we were living in Chicago. I’m more competitive with myself than with anybody else, setting personal goals.  Juneau has a wide range of runners, so we can compete against really fast athletes or just have fun.

Why do you want to run a marathon?
: To feel pain.
Molly: I wanted to challenge myself. I was never very athletic, but I like running now. I like feeling healthy and being outside. Running in Juneau is an awesome place for marathon training because I’m never bored on a long run. I saw a humpback whale during a race this past month, we’ve seen bears, and there’s always a glacier to run to. The marathon is on Douglas, which is the island next to Juneau and the only place we can actually drive to (you have to either fly in or sail in otherwise). The course is pretty hilly but wraps around North Douglas and should have pretty good views of Gastineau Channel and Juneau.

How are you training for the marathon?
: We’re using Hal Higdon’s novice training program. He used to be a writer for Runner’s World and has run over 100 marathons himself. He has trained people for the Chicago marathon and run it as a pacer for 5-hour marathoners. His program is 18 weeks of short and long runs, with scheduled rest days and cross training.

How do you make time for it?
Molly: We just do. We know that if we skip one run, it will make the next day harder to be motivated. Our long runs are on Saturdays, so that’s easy to schedule in, but otherwise we run after work. The nice thing is that the sun doesn’t set until around 9:30 or 10, so we don’t have to worry about running in the dark.

Do you have any race-day tips for potential marathon-ers?
Adam: We’ll let you know once we run it. We’re running our long runs with plenty of water and we’ll probably use Gu Energy Gels or Clif Shot Bloks around miles 13, 18, and 22. Wear whatever is not going to chafe! You’ll have figured that out by race day with the 15- or 16-mile runs during training.

Any other training tips?
Molly: Don’t train too hard or hurt yourself. It’s OK if you miss one day, so don’t beat yourself up about it… as long as you go out the next day. And be realistic: my goals are to finish, to not get injured, and to hopefully not puke!

Thanks for sharing, Molly and Adam! I’m so excited for you guys. GOOD LUCK!