TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — When Senior Airman Sarah Snyder started her Air Force Reserve basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, it was not the culture shock and confusion that new recruits normally experience while stepping from the civilian to the military world.
The young woman who now serves in the 45th Aerial Port Squadron already grasped the expectations – ranging from physical fitness and the Airman’s Creed to the meaning of rank and military procedure, along with a little bit of what her duties will be like working in the 45th Aerial Port Squadron – thanks to a pre-recruit program called the Air Force Reserve’s Development and Training Flight.
“It was a huge difference because we already knew what we were getting into,” Snyder said. “What I got here (at Travis) allowed me to be able to focus better.”
That difference was enough to make her dorm chief and end the training cycle as an honor graduate before coming back to the 349th Air Mobility Wing to start her service.
The Development and Training Flight started as a 12-month-long pilot program two years ago at five Air Force Reserve bases that included Travis, to determine if familiarizing new delayed-enlistment airmen with Air Force Reserve military life before they were shipped to basic training would cut the dropout rate for recruits.
Rather that simply sitting and waiting, they get experience that will physically and mentally prepare them for basic training. It is an effective counter to that fear of the unknown, sink-or-swim worry experienced by many new recruits, who have never experienced military life. It is also a good screening measure.
“It is all to prepare the recruits for training, for success,” said Senior Master Sgt. Alexander Brown, senior recruiter for the 349th Air Mobility Wing.
In the past, too many reserve airmen were being sent home from basic training due to academic failure, disciplinary issues or medical issues. At the time, the loss rate was approximately 6 to 7 percent.
The pilot program proved to be an immediate success and the development and training flights were stood up in 2012. They are now established at every Air Force Reserve Command wing base across the country, according to Brown.
It is mandatory for any recruit to go through the program from the time they sign up to join the reserves and when they are sent to basic training at Lackland.
Last year, the Air Force Reserve had less than a 2 percent dropout rate from people who had changed their mind about the military during that time between enlisting and basic training.
“It has had a great effect across the entire command. The numbers show it,” Brown said, pointing out there have been no dropouts this year.
Brown said the Development and Training Flights are not only a good training tool, but also a good recruiting tool: He said has seen some of the participants bring some of their friends along for the training days.
“When they go back to their communities, they tell their friends. They see what their (pre-recruit) friends are doing and they want to be a part of that,” Brown said.
The 349th Air Mobility Wing’s Development and Training Flight is split into two groups of pre-recruits. Each group meets at Travis one Saturday a month for academic and physical training. The pre-recruits drive up from as far as Monterey.
The academic portion is centered around teaching Air Force core values, history, airmanship, and military customs and courtesy. The physical training portion is comprised of push-ups, sit-ups, “and a lot of circuit training,” according to Capt. Maria Rocio Vazquez, the flight’s physical training instructor.
Each one of the participants also gets orientation for their specific future specialities. For example, Snyder was able to visit and meet with members of the 45th Aerial Port Squadron to understand what her work will be like preparing and moving cargo through Travis.
Participation in the flight is one Saturday a month for approximately four months, but is flexible depending on how long the pre-recruit has delayed his or her entry to basic training.
Feedback from Lackland Air Force Base instructors is that they love the recruits who come out of the development and training flights. A good number of them do well enough to be honor guards, according to Brown.
“The majority of our folks become honor guards,” Brown said. “They start ahead of the game where others are starting from zero.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.