SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. --
My co-worker's son graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training last week. It was a basic training totally different - and yet completely the same - from the one I graduated from 29 years ago.
I sat in rapt attention as I heard about how mom and dad were present for things like the Warrior Run and the coining ceremony. Families attending BMT graduation? There were a couple of guys in my flight from San Antonio and, to my knowledge, even their mothers didn't attend our parade.
New wrinkles. New changes. And still, American Airmen are being made at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Gosh, even the name of the base has changed. And still, Airmen are being made.
It took a lot of effort, I am certain, to make all those changes over the years to the Basic Training process. It takes a lot of effort to turn a kid from the Motor City - me - into an Airman.
They need to make Airmen a little different these days. A decade and a half into the 21st century, the world has changed. So Airmen, and the Air Force, must change to keep up.
In the northeast corner of the air park at the Selfridge Military Air Museum is an example of what we all know is by far the coolest and baddest fighter aircraft the Air Force ever flew. Naturally, I am referring to the F-4 Phantom. Despite the fact that the F-4 was the most awesome-est aircraft ever, in 1991 the Air National Guard replaced the F-4s at Selfridge Air National Guard Base with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which was and is pretty cool, but clearly not as cool as the F-4s.
The F-16s which replaced the F-4s were later replaced by the C-130 Hercules and still later by the KC-135 Stratotanker. This is not to confuse those F-16s with the other F-16s which replaced the A-7 Corsairs at Selfridge. Those F-16s were later replaced with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. None of these aircraft, of course, are as cool as the F-4 Phantom, although combined, I must admit they do come close. But still, not quite.
Visitors to the F-4 at the Selfridge Museum will notice that our Phantom features a checkerboard paint scheme on both the tail and at the air intakes. The black & yellow checkerboard on the F-4's tail marks that bird as a Selfridge F-4, which would make that F-4 even cooler, but for one issue: It is scientifically impossible for an F-4 to be even more awesome than it already is. This same checkerboard now graces the KC-135s, which replaced the C-130s, which replaced the F-16s, which replaced the F-4.
It took a lot of effort to paint all those checkerboards.
Painting was nothing, however, compared to the effort required to change aircraft, change missions and, for many, to change jobs as a result of all these other changes.
Despite how cool the F-4 was and how much effort was required, a change in mission and a change in aircraft was needed as the Air Force rolled into the 1990s and then into the 21st century and now into today. From Basic Military Training to the aircraft assignments, not much - other than that checkerboard paintjob - has remained the same over the years.
Except, that is, for one thing.
America still needs Airmen.
America still needs kids from the Motor City to go down to San Antonio and put on the blue suit and be made into Airmen.
Some of those brand new Airmen will be Airmen for four years. Some for 40 years. Either way, the Air Force they leave will likely be different in many ways from the Air Force they joined. More aircraft will have been moved into the museum and maybe the name of what they used to call Lackland Air Force Base will have changed again.
But America will still need Airmen. They will need them to change and adapt as we roll into the next decade and then the one after that. The aircraft they use will be different. And maybe even the paint schemes on those aircraft will be different.
What will be the same? Well, that would be those things from Lackland that haven't changed: doing your best, being a team player and standing up for what is right. Those things all require a lot of effort, too. But that is part of what makes a kid from the Motor City into an Airman.
And America still needs Airmen.
Oh, and one more thing. The F-4 is still cool.
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.