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Student flight, student bright

Senior Airman Sean Welch (left) instructs Airman Basic Adrienne Taylor on a mock M-4 rifle during defensive fighting position drills, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, October 23, 2011.  Airman Welch and Airman Taylor are assigned to the 157th Air Refueling Wing Student Flight here at Pease.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz)

Senior Airman Sean Welch (left) instructs Airman Basic Adrienne Taylor on a mock M-4 rifle during defensive fighting position drills, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, October 23, 2011. Airman Welch and Airman Taylor are assigned to the 157th Air Refueling Wing Student Flight here at Pease. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz)

Members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing's student flight train on mock M-4 rifles during defensive fighting position drills,  Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, October 23, 2011.  (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Alec C. Vargus)

Members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing's student flight train on mock M-4 rifles during defensive fighting position drills, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, October 23, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Alec C. Vargus)

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- The New Hampshire Air National Guard saw two of its newest recruits achieve great success while attending Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland Air Force Base this past September.

Airman 1st Class Matthew Prugger and Airman 1st Class Jamie Anthony both received the prestigious award of honor graduate from their flights upon graduation from BMT.

In order to be selected as an honor graduate, the individuals must have far exceeded the standards for basic training by a large enough margin to be listed in the top ten percent of their flight. The honor grad must have demonstrated excellence in all phases of training, academic and military training as well as pass rigorous fitness training and testing standards.

Anthony also graduated from BMT with the Thunderbolt fitness award, and most importantly, she received the highest recognition of the squadron's top graduate from more than 660 trainees, receiving the 'First Airman' award.

Prugger and Anthony are just two of the latest examples of recruits returning to the 157th Air Refueling Wing after graduating from BMT with honors. Over the last few years the unit has developed a winning formula for cultivating talented and motivated personnel. The combination of recruiting some of the best candidates coupled with a new and improved student flight program here is preparing and training these recruits better than ever.

"I was in the student flight at Pease for three drill weekends," Anthony said. "I feel I was better prepared because student flight set us up to understand the dynamic of chain of command and respect in general."

Staff Sgt. Constantia Athanasiou, the assistant non-commissioned officer in charge of student flight went through the program not long ago herself. She describes the experience differently than it is structured today.

"I went through student flight seven years ago and back when I went through it was nothing like it is now," said Athanasiou. "We came in for roll call, were checked off as present, and once in a while we might have done some group physical training here and there, but mostly, I would go straight to my gaining unit where I was going to work after BMT and tech school to do some on the job training."

Currently the NCOIC of student flight, Tech. Sgt. Vinton Wallace joined the unit about four years ago and immediately got to work with Master Sgt. Craig Poirier on changing the structure. Wallace said the two of them discussed ways in which they could bring student flight to a new level and that Poirier was extremely supportive of him exploring any options for improvements and allowing him the flexibility needed to research and implement the changes and letting him run with it.

Wallace was soon able to attend a student flight training seminar hosted by Lackland's Guard liaison office that was focused on what the Guard could do to improve the quality of time, training and support to these new trainees. He returned later for a five day long military training instructor (MTI) orientation program in which he was able to shadow the instructors for a week from 3 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day.

Wallace said this helped him understand what basic training is like today, what the instructors expect and look for in the trainees in order to better prepare the new recruits here at Pease for basic and set them up for success from the beginning of their military careers.

Poirier and Wallace had decided that the most important change they could implement immediately was to take full ownership of all new recruits in student flight, to no longer allow them to leave the student flight office after roll call to go to work with or train with their gaining unit as done in the past.

They had agreed that it did not make sense for these new recruits to work within their career field units until they were fully trained, completing both basic and their technical training schools. It seemed in everybody's best interest to be able to better train and prepare our new recruits for their schools here during student flight in order to reduce the rates of those being recycled or washed out during the process.

Athanasiou also attended the weeklong MTI shadow program at Lackland with Wallace.

"We went for the purpose of understanding what basic is like now and what is expected of the recruits today," said Athanasiou. "We received firsthand experience of being there for a week to see exactly what they do. Now we regularly stay in touch with these current and former MTI's to see what has changed and keep us up to date on the program."

"We set up schedules for both days of drill, utilizing the entire drill to implement our training programs" said Wallace. "I think that is why we have such a high honor grad rate, because before they leave here, they know all of their memory work like the Airman's Creed, the Air Force song, history, M16 training, customs and courtesies, and the rank structures."

"We've also implemented a rope program, where recruits that have been here for more than four to five drills can also start to learn leadership roles, marching flights like a dorm chief, with a red rope, yellow rope and two green ropes." Wallace continued.

Airman 1st Class Michael J. McCrady is a member of our student flight who has gone through his basic training but is now waiting on his tech school as a 'split option' trainee. He said in comparing himself with others when he went through basic training, he felt a step above the others due to his training here.

"A lot of kids in my flight were also Guard, but had different student flights where they would show up do a role call and that was it so they did not even know facing movements. I had done ROTC before as well, but when I came here, I was actually presented with more of the basic training attitude so when I went I knew what to do and how to act," said McCrady, now a red rope and assists the student flight instructors with marching the student flight or helping with training drills while he awaits his tech school training.

"We always have four ropes here, and like to have those spit option trainees fill these roles when they come back here waiting to go to tech school." said Athanasiou. "They can help us teach the others by sharing what they have just learned at basic too."

"The training changes from drill to drill, we add on each and every time, we never do the same thing twice." said Athanasiou. "Yesterday we showed them different shooting positions, and went over how to handle the M16 and other weapons. Today we took their bags outside and piled them up as if they were sandbags to work on doing defensive fighting positions using M16 and M4 molded plastic guns."

Team work is the other area Wallace and Athanasiou focus on for training.

"Just from them doing their PT, I have seen such a tremendous change in the students, starting from the 'I'm in it for myself' mentality to them showing complete team building skills," Athanasiou said. "Now, if they see somebody lacking, they really try to help each other out. They had their mile and a half run today and we had a few people that were straggling. The entire flight went back to get the last few, not one, two or three, it was the entire flight, close to fifty students, and all of them went back to get those last few four to five and bring them to the finish line."

Wallace credits much of the success of the student flight trainees with the quality airman that are coming into the unit from recruiting.

"In recruiting, our team is only looking for only the best and brightest to be part of the N.H. Air National Guard," said Master Sgt. Ronald Connary, recruiting office supervisor. "The timeframe these trainees spend in Student Flight only makes them better prepared to handle the challenges of Basic Training. Our Student Flight Program is one of the best in the country and Tech Sgt. Wallace and Staff Sgt. Athanasiou are the first step in molding these trainees into tomorrow's Airmen."

"I feel extremely privileged to be able to have a hand in the molding these high speed airman at the beginning of their military careers," said Wallace.

The only drawback to the job for both Athanasiou and Wallace? "We lose our voice every drill."
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