No one forgets their first time
By Sr. Airman Anthony Melius, 104th Fighter Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published August 04, 2011
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK -- Ask any Airman why they decided to enlist in the military and you might hear a wide variety of reasons: to serve their country, earn money for college, or for a chance to see the world.
Those of us that decided to serve through the Air National Guard only get to capitalize on that last reason when on Temporary Duty Assignments (TDYs). Sometimes the need to accomplish the wing's mission takes us outside of our home state. Currently, there are several young Airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing temporarily stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska are on their "First TDY"; myself included. We are part of a team of Air National Guard members helping to provide critical air-to-air training with the active duty Air Force stationed here in Alaska.
Many of us on our first TDY are relatively new to the military, having only completed tech-school within the past year or so. Some of us started our military service in the same place together - a training course developed by the 104th Fighter Wing to prepare the new airmen for their upcoming basic training opportunities. While under the supervision Senior Master Sgt. Douglas Daponde, the "Student Flight" members were fresh-faced and anxious about discovering their roles within our new units. But, before we could even get to our new duty sections, two very large obstacles stood in our way - Basic Military Training and our Technical Training Schools...well, that's all behind us now. We're no longer the new guys... well, at least not the brand new guys.
All the airmen that joined me in the 'Student Flight" we're all now finding their niches and many are showing their value while in Alaska. We are all doing whatever it takes to prove ourselves worthy of wearing the uniform and serving alongside proven Air National Guardsmen.
Sr. Airman Kyle Bienia, Crew Chief, is one of the Airmen on his first TDY. Airman Bienia said he's been preparing for this deployment one drill at a time absorbing as much knowledge as he can from his supervisors and trainers. His biggest fear while here in Alaska? "Screwing something up," he said. "We've gotten a chance to enjoy some of the country side; we went on some great hikes". He added, "[he] loves launching the jets while having some great scenery around."
Not all airmen that are on their first TDY are fresh out of training. Sr. Airman Mike McKenzie, from the Fuel Systems Maintenance Shop, finished tech school in October of 2008. As a full-time student at UMASS Amherst during the spring and fall semesters, Airman McKenzie has been spending his summer working at Barnes Air National Guard Base. "I'd say what I've learned in the last two and a half months has really taught me a lot more than just the weekends over the three years prior," he said. "...I feel a lot more confident in knowing what to do on the jet and that's really what made me feel comfortable coming out here on this TDY."
The First Sergeant for this trip and a veteran of about 30 TDYs, Master Sgt. Fred Fopiano, has some advice for those Airmen going on their first TDY - "Look to your supervisors for guidance. Take the lead from the Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs). Over-prepare. Check what you pack and whatever you pack...double check again."
When this trip is over, the expectation placed on my fellow young Airmen and I will be higher and deservedly so. Hopefully, within the next couple of years, some may reach the NCO ranks and then it will be our turn to reminisce back to this trip here at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. We will be able to offer guidance to young airmen based on the lessons we learned here. Most importantly, we'll look back and remember what bits of information were most helpful and we'll always remember to be patient because, well - we were on our first TDY once too.