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December 12, 2013

'Off we go into the wild blue yonder'

COMMERCE — Well, I’m home.

Twenty pounds lighter, a freshly shaved head and ready to Lordwilling cover the news in Hunt County.

For those of you who don’t know, I was at Lackland Air Force Base down in San Antonio for Basic Military Training for the United States Air Force.

And wow, was it tough.

I’d been preparing myself physically for the training by running and going to the gym every day, but what I was not expecting was the rigorous strain boot camp placed on me mentally and spiritually.

Don’t get me wrong, Air Force BMT is physically exhausting. They took heed to being dubbed “The Chair Force” and really changed the physical training to be comparable to the other branches (except, of course, the Marines).

On run days, you were guaranteed to run 3 miles and then do six 30 second sprints to finish it off. Strength and conditioning days were their own challenge as well.

But by far the most challenging aspect was the mental and spiritual strain trainees underwent through the 14-17 hour days of non-stop intense training.

From making properly folded hospital corner beds in less than 10 minutes, folding and rolling clothes to your MTIs standard and making sure you knew your memory work whenever a random MTI would walk up to you, training was tough.

Add in getting only 5-7 hours of sleep a night and living with 49 other men from around the country all with different backgrounds and beliefs, and you’ve got a perfect storm for a lot of stress.

Truthfully, most of the training is a blur.

Days blended in together and the only way we really distinguished them was by what food was on our plates that day.

I remember going to chapel at the end of my first week there and feeling a huge weight lifted off my chest by just being able to stop, smile, and forget that I was in basic trainin, even if only for an hour.

I do remember one night very vividly though.

It was around the halfway mark of basic and we were getting pretty worn out from the constant training. It wore on us all, but Fellman in particular because his wife is four months pregnant with their first child, so naturally he’s missing his wife in Pennsylvania.

Well, one of the trainees (now Airman), Amrein, who can sing like nobody’s business, finds out the song Fellman and his wife danced to at their wedding and starts singing it.

Hearing “God Bless the Broken Road” sung after being deprived of music for more than a month and seeing the expression on Fellman’s face as he heard it was priceless.

After that, things got better.

There were five main memories that I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time about BMT though.

The first memory was my first full day there. Waking up at 0445 to reveille and your zero week MTI banging on the glass portion of the door with his head yelling “LET ME IN!” will not long be forgotten.

Another memory was the famed obstacle course. That was a fun day of getting to run around and climb things. I felt like I was 12 again swinging on ropes, crawling through the dirt and climbing over obstacles. That was memorable.

Getting hit with CS gas, which is similar to tear gas, was hard to explain. It was like breathing in sandpaper that then filled the lungs every time you took a breath. The exercise was designed to build trust in your gas mask.

I now trust my gas mask.

After going through that, it brought a new realization to what the Jews went through in the Holocaust and the people who were hit with gas in Syria recently.

That gas was one of the worst experiences, and CS gas doesn’t even compare to the Sarin gas that was used on the Syrians in lethality.

My hatred for biological warfare only grew through that experience.

The fourth memory was the Thursday before graduation and going through the Airman’s Coin Ceremony.

Having your MTI who has challenged and pushed you for the past 8 weeks come up to you, shake your hand, give you the Airman’s Coin and tell you “Good job, Hamrick. Keep up the hard work,” is a special feeling.

But the best memory of boot camp was graduation day.

Not only did I raise my right hand and have God’s help in becoming an airman in the greatest air power in the world, I was greeted with hugs from my mother and three of my sisters, and a handshake from my father, who was a lieutenant in the Army.

That was the best memory.

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