Surviving Air Force Basic Training: Meeting Your T.I.

Air Force Basic Training Instructors are good at yelling....Very good.
••• US Air Force/Flickr

Once you step off the bus after arrival, you'll meet your training team members. This consists of your Chief Military Training Instructor (MTI), lovingly called T.I.s by their close friends and family (you'll call them "sir," or "ma'am" at all times.)

Suddenly, the skies will darken, your ears will ring, and all Hell will break loose. You'll say to yourself, "What have I gotten myself into?" Your flight will probably have a Training Instructor, and an Assistant Training Instructor, as a minimum. If you're really, really "lucky," you may have more than the basic two. Depending upon their genders, their first and last names are both "Sir," or "Ma'am." Unlike the other services, in the Air Force during basic training, you'll be required to address noncommissioned officers (NCOs) -- especially T.I.s -- as "Sir," or "Ma'am."

There are not enough commissioned officers around basic training for you to practice on, so the T.I.s "allow" you to practice this etiquette on them. Once you leave basic training, your technical school instructors will be quick to inform you that, as they are NCOs, they "work for a living," and you do not call them "sir" or "ma'am." However, in basic training, you should call everyone who outranks you (which is pretty much everyone except other trainees) as "sir" or "ma'am."

Before leaving home, you'll want to make sure you do not stand out in your personal appearance. When you meet your Training Instructor for the first time, trust me -- you'll not want him or her to remember you for your long hair, earrings (male), handlebar mustache, or pants that are four sizes too big. Ladies, while you will not be required to cut your hair for basic, you will be required to keep it off of your collar at all times when in uniform (which is most of the time in basic), so you may wish to consider cutting your hair short enough so it doesn't have to be put up.

The very first thing you will discover is that even if you're 6' 2", 190 lbs and your T.I. is 5' 4", 120 lbs, he/she is the biggest, meanest thing you've met in your life. You'll soon realize that your T.I. does not like you, doesn't like your friends, and absolutely hates your family. Air Force T.I.s do not use profanity (at least, they're not supposed to), nor will they "put hands" on you. But, they are very, very good at yelling. Very good.

Years ago, when I was an up and coming young staff sergeant, I attended a supervisor's course at Chanute AFB. One of my classmates was a small, petite woman who had just returned to the "real Air Force" from four years of T.I. duty. One evening, while walking back to billeting (the base hotel) from a "study group" meeting at the NCO Club, we passed a young airman, walking down the street with his field jacket unzipped (this is a uniform no-no). My former T.I. friend said, "Watch this."

She braced the very large young man, ordered him to stand at attention, and -- standing six inches in front of him, looking up at his frightened face -- proceeded to discuss his ancestry and disgusting personal habits for ten minutes straight, all without a single word of profanity escaping her lips. When she was finished, the young man was six inches shorter, and bleeding from the ears. I was very much impressed (and, from that moment on, slightly afraid of her).

The second thing you'll discover about basic training is that nobody in your flight can do anything at all right. Everything you do during the first couple of days will be wrong. You'll stand wrong, you'll walk (march) wrong, you'll talk wrong, you'll look wrong, and possibly you're even breathing wrong.

Hopefully, if you read this feature, you'll have a few minutes of respite while the T.I. concentrates on the person next to you with the purple hair. If so, do not giggle, do not smile. If you do, you'll discover just how short a T.I.s attention span can beĀ as he/she shifts attention to examine and comment (loudly) about your particular deficiencies. Keep in mind that T.I.s hate the word, "yeah." They also hate the word "nope," and "un-uh." They especially hate any sentence that doesn't begin or end with the word, "sir," or "ma'am."

When I went through Air Force Basic Training (several centuries ago), each and every sentence had to begin and end with "sir" or "ma'am." Example, "Sir, Can I go to the latrine, Sir?" However, my friend Johnathan Carpenter has reminded me that modern-day T.I.s hate this as well. In Basic, if you say "sir" or "ma'am" beginning and ending a sentence, they call it a "sir sandwich" or a "ma'am sandwich," and that is another notorious pet peeve of those kind gentle souls.

T.I.s are also notoriously hard-of-hearing. No matter how loud you say "Yes Sir!," or "No Ma'am!" your T.I. will probably politely ask you to speak up. Because of their hearing problem, the T.I. will probably assume that you are similarly inflicted and will make a special effort to speak loudly -- right next to your ear. Moving, or showing any evidence of discomfort is considered to be impolite and will be commented upon (loudly).

Before long, it will dawn on you that somewhere between the welcome center and your dormitory, someone stole your first name. You'll probably never hear your first name throughout your entire time in basic. For your time there, everyone (T.I.s, flight mates, etc.) will be addressing you by your last name. If a T.I. doesn't know your last name, he/she will call you "trainee," or "recruit" (loudly). If you're female, often they will yell, "Hey, you! Female!" (My daughters hated this).

Your T.I. will likely spend most of the time on the first evening you're together, between meeting you, and lights out, by introducing you to some of his/her favorite T.I. games.