Airman Steven McElmury, a 2012 graduate of Lanesboro High School, recently shared some of his experiences in the Air Force while home for the holidays.
Airman Steven McElmury, a 2012 graduate of Lanesboro High School, recently shared some of his experiences in the Air Force while home for the holidays.
When most people think of basic military training, the first thing that likely comes to mind is physical exertion. After all, don't they do those 100-mile runs with a 70-pound backpack? But that is not what stands out when Airman Steven McElmury is asked about his experiences so far in the U.S. Air Force.

McElmury, a 2012 graduate of Lanesboro High School, was sworn in to active duty on Sept. 18 and reported to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the next eight and a half weeks becoming acclimated to a new way of life - and a new way of looking at life.

Basic training not same as boot camp

He agreed that the stereotype that most people hold about basic military training is "boot camp": a lot of physical activity and combat training from early morning until night. But the Air Force uses a different model. They do have physical training every day in the summer starting at 4:45 a.m.; in the winter that is changed to afternoons. But that is only a small part of the day's schedule.

Most of the new recruits' time is spent in a classroom learning skills, covering a wide variety of subjects. As McElmury described it, "They walk us through everything."

He cited as an example "personal finance," which is something he will use not just during his tenure in the Air Force, but for the rest of his life. He said that basic training was literally "setting us up for the future."

Another life skill that he feels he will take with him after his Air Force career is what he has learned about teamwork. Everything that gets done is done in a team, and anyone who has not been "a team player" before learns pretty quickly how important it is and how it makes their jobs - whatever they are - go more smoothly and quickly.

When asked if he experienced any surprises in this first round of his military career, he said no. He had learned to follow the rules, and to present himself in a professional manner. He said there are always some in a group that are not used to a demanding routine, but he said they learn quickly.

He also explained that the biggest challenge so far for him was being cut off from the outside world: they could get regular mail, but only one phone call per week. There were no cell phones or computers. He thought that was the hardest thing to which he had to adjust, but the rest of his enlistment won't be like that.

His next job will require lots of teamwork

Being a good team member is very relevant to what his next duties in the Air Force will be. After his current leave is up, which was on Jan. 2, he will report to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Kan., for the next phase of his training where he will attend technical school.

When in boot camp, the recruits make a choice of an area in which they would like to serve; McElmury chose Mechanical Aptitude and was given a list of specific jobs currently open in that area. They are then to list their top eight choices, in priority order of one to eight. He chose Crew Chief for the C5 cargo planes as his number one choice and was fortunate enough to have gotten that choice. The very large four-engine jet hauls just about anything, from food, equipment and people to other smaller aircraft and drones.

He will complete 28 classroom days of training for that position while at Shepherd. After that he will be based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the next four years of his six-year enlistment. His first assignment at Dover will be a sort of apprentice position during which he will prove that he knows the job and can do it. And then he will be in charge, responsible for "making sure the airplane is ready to fly." That includes the inspections of the airplane's general maintenance, right down to checking panels, screws and tires, basically what passengers see a commercial captain doing before entering the cockpit.

If he finds something wrong, as crew chief he will call a specific shop to come and do the repair. He will then "marshal" the plane on and off the runway. For people watching that part of the operation, he'd be the person with the wands, waving signals from the ground to the flight deck crew both as the plane departs a gate and as it returns and is parked.

As he pointed out, the emphasis on teamwork during basic will be reinforced when he is on the job. He said they learn to rely on others. And of course there are still occasions when stress and tension will happen, and he described using humor, joking around, as a form of tension release.

He was quick to point out they "don't joke around when in working mode," another basic training lesson he will take with him.

Many rewarding aspects of being part of the Air Force

McElmury obviously made a well-thought-out choice prior to enlisting, and has had many of his reasons confirmed for selecting the Air Force over the other service branches. He believes it to be "self-rewarding," both long-term and short-term.

He said the Air Force is "more job-oriented," meaning that he will be better able to switch to a similar civilian job when he leaves the service. And if he were to be deployed overseas, it would be to work with the aircraft, on a secure base that has been there awhile, rather than into direct combat. He likes the future benefits, such as having the GI Bill when he is finished, so he can more easily go to school at that time if he chooses.

In the meantime, he really enjoys what he describes as the atmosphere in the Air Force. He said it is very positive and also supportive, and "that makes life easier."

He has made many friends, from all over, "every part of the country." He knows that he will run into many of them again, due to their future jobs being "so intertwined: anyone who works on any specific part of the airplane, or loading and unloading, will interact with the Crew Chief." So he expects to stay in touch with many of the people he has met so far.

When asked if he had advice for other young people trying to decide about their futures, McElmury indicated that he is very happy with the choice that he made. He feels it is important to think through what priorities are important, and to find a "good fit" with those priorities. For him, the long-range benefits were a big factor, and the Air Force is doing a good job in preparing him for that long-range.

In the meantime, Airman Steven McElmury is obviously a self-confident, very positive, dedicated, disciplined and determined young man, making good use of the opportunities that have and are coming his way. It might be said he gives the best advice by example!