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FTAC is the starting point for new MacDill airmen

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

When does a new airman know he or she is in the Air Force?

While recognition may come with signing on the dotted line at enlistment, more often than not it's when a new airman gets to base for his first permanent duty assignment and checks into the First Term Airmen Center that they get their first real taste of what their new life in the Air Force is all about.

It's a critical point, for airmen and the Air Force, when both come together to establish a new professional relationship and what may be the beginning of a career of service, which is why so much pride and care goes into the job of initiating new airmen, said Chief Master Sgt. Heyward Kerns, chief of the Personnel Development Flight.

A relatively new program to the Air Force at just three years old, the FTAC program involves a three-week course, during which new airmen are oriented into the Air Force, their base and even the surrounding community. When completed, the result, at least most often, is a prepared new airman ready to start work.

The program has been a big success, said Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Rogers, superintendent of the FTAC. Prior to the orientation system, new airmen were assigned sponsors who handled all the chores of showing them around and getting them situated on base. While sponsors also served as teachers, covering decorum, courtesies, procedures and other essential matters, the quality of that education depended almost entirely on the ability and willingness of the sponsor. That meant each new airman may or may not have received all the information they needed, said Sergeant Rogers. In addition, new airmen in the past visited each agency on designated days of the month and many times it could take a year before they made every stop required. Now, those agencies come to the classroom and the requirement is fulfilled over the course of the three-week orientation.

Under the new system, sponsors are used, but only for the job of getting new airmen situated and checked in where required, assisting with getting settled into housing and other necessities. The FTAC provides the rest, with the result being a more uniform and complete education for those new to the Air Force, said Sergeant Rogers.

The course is ongoing, so as new airmen arrive, they rotate into the program, starting at sections of the course where others are wrapping up. The program can have as few as three and as many as 24 new airmen at any given time.

Classes run in the afternoon is summer and in the mornings in winter. The other half of the day is spent on "Pride Patrol" details, and most often that means grounds work such as trimming hedges or other chores. While it is a common misconception, FTAC doesn't assign details but makes airman available to CE and Chugach, which makes the assignments. Chief Kerns said one of the pleasures of the job is seeing the eagerness of new airmen and watching them grow as productive members of the Air Force. He says while there are some younger and some older, most new airmen are 20 to 21 years old, eager to get on the job and level headed.

It's when he sees a young airman getting a new stripe that the feeling of accomplishment and pride is realized for FTAC team.

"That's very rewarding to see," he said. "To know that someone you worked with is advancing and doing well."

The FTAC staff consists of Chief Kerns and Tech Sgt. Rogers, along with two staff sergeants, each of whom rotate out every 90 days. For the sergeant-assistants, the job often provides them with their first opportunity to practice leadership skills, so in essence, they are students, as well, said Chief Kerns.

Sergeant Rogers said he is impressed with the quality of most of the your airmen coming in. He said the numbers of those joining the Air Force to "serve their country" are up since the terror attacks of 9/11 and many of those have a good deal of pride of country.

While education opportunities are another factor for may joining the Air Force, he said all he has encountered have a realistic outlook and are fully aware what joining the military could mean.

"They know they could be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice," said Sergeant Rogers. "I don't think any of them have any misconceptions about what could happen."

While much material has to be covered over the course of the three-week program, they are careful not to overwhelm the new airmen.

"We give them what they need to know but we give them the freedom they need," said Chief Kerns, who added that time is important as new airmen have much to do as they get settled into their units, get their finances and housing matters handled and get to know the base and community.




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