Customs and courtesies, an MTI's perspective

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Staker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Have you ever seen someone in uniform walk past while looking at their phone or maybe someone saluted an officer, but the officer didn't salute back? What about seeing people walk out of a building so close to 5 p.m., but run straight back in to avoid saluting the flag during retreat?

These are all examples of Airmen who lack of respect or knowledge of proper customs and courtesies set in place based on honoring Air Force tradition and heritage.

"What you believe in your heart is what you hold true to yourself," said Master Sgt. Gregory Pendleton, 28th Security Forces Squadron installation security section chief and former Military Training Instructor. "That's what customs and courtesies are to me."

Every year, more than 36,000 Airmen transition from Basic Military Training to Technical School, where in addition to learning their daily jobs, they're taught dress and appearance, Air Force history and customs and courtesies.

"We all have the same information and when we talk about integrity first, everybody should have integrity," Pendleton said. "So all of those foundations, those skills that we learned when we first got into the military, whether you came in at BMT or Officer Training School, all that was taught at that level and created that foundation. Why is it now that that foundation is not being maintained at all levels? Why does it have to be the first sergeant? Why does it have to be the old crusty MTI to make the correction?"

Pendleton joined the Air Force as a security forces member and retrained to become a personnelist in 1997. At his eight-year mark, he was convinced the Air Force wasn't for him until a chief master sergeant took him to see a special duty recruiting team. His chief told the team he'd be the perfect person for an MTI job, which resulted in Pendleton becoming an MTI in 1999. He returned to his career field in 2004, and then went back for a second tour as an MTI from April 2009 to May 2013.

"I went through a 14-week course where I learned the principles of teaching, counseling techniques, Flight Administration, Dorm Maintenance, and Individual and Transitory Drill," Pendleton said. "The first year was a blur. I had to complete my upgrade training and lead a flight of 60 individuals. By the time I thought I had the job figured out, here comes a new flight with different learning styles and challenges."

When Pendleton returned to security forces in 2004, he recalled being asked if he'd seen an Airman who needed to be corrected.

"They wear the same uniform that we wear and they know what the rules and standards are, so why don't they follow them?" Pendleton said.

During the down time between his two MTI tours, Pendleton continued seeing individuals whose behavior needed to be corrected, but would walk by without being spoken to.

"I was actually disheartened that everybody wasn't on the same page," Pendleton explained. "The level of corrective-ness, of history and traditions, was lower than what I expected. It actually drove me to go back to basic training because it's very disheartening that an Airman or an NCO, or even an officer walks by an individual who isn't aware of customs and courtesies or they run from the national anthem, hide from retreat."

One of the customs Pendleton mentioned involved saluting the flag during retreat, as well as when taps is playing.

"I still to this day get moved by hearing taps because of the people that have come before, the people who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice. I love that stuff," Pendleton said. "It keeps me in check and makes sure I don't offend the people before me. Hearing the national anthem or reveille... those are the traditions that we grew up in and the people before us have grown up on. I think we've lost the importance of what that actually means. It's just understanding the history and being proud of what you're all about."

Airmen, both enlisted and officer, are ambassadors to the Air Force. It is important to remember where we came from, to remember our training and what was instilled in us from day one, and to understand our roles as servicemembers.

"I loved being an MTI, and if you asked me... would I go back: I would," Pendleton said. "I love the job, I love the level of impact I have to Airmen, to officers. I'm inspired by hearing success stories. Just hearing the words thank you... That's what keeps me focused. I'm proud to wear the uniform and I'm proud to see individual Airmen wear the uniform."