Hanscom detachment strives to uphold military traditions

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Foster
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Heritage and tradition is upheld in many ways throughout the Air Force. The 46th Test Squadron, Detachment 1, here supports the idea of heritage and tradition by ensuring they participate in their own way.

"The United States Air Force is the youngest of all the services, but we have a rich heritage that helps us remember who we are, what our mission is and what is unique about our mission in defense of the nation," said Lt. Col. David McIllece, 46th Test Squadron, Detachment 1, commander. "We want to remember our history is an important part of our identity and we never want to lose sight of that."

McIllece knew when he took command of the detachment, sometimes called "the det," in August 2011, he would be faced with an exciting set of challenges due to the amount of young officers assigned to him.

"The majority of uniformed people here at Hanscom are officers and a large percentage of them are junior officers serving their first assignment," said McIllece. "I know many directors and supervisors share similar concerns. Not only do we have the responsibility to train our people to be technically proficient in the important missions we have, we also need to instill in them professionalism, connect them with their Air Force heritage, teach them customs, courtesies and traditions that are very important for us as a service and build their identity as warriors and defenders."

One of the most well-known traditions for all military branches and one the detachment enjoys participating in is the challenge coin. There are differing stories explaining the origins of the practice but according to http://custom.nwtmint.com, it began in World War II. The popularity was inspired by special forces that minted coins to express the unique identity and strong bond forged between them. Other units wanted their own coin to build camaraderie and symbolize their pride of membership in an elite group.

Every unit may choose to add or remove certain rules but it generally starts when the challenger draws their coin and places it on a table. If a coin is accidentally dropped, it is considered a challenge. Everyone that is being challenged must immediately produce their coin. Anyone that is unable to produce a coin must adhere to a predetermined consequence, which is generally a round of drinks. However, if everyone challenged produces their coins, the original challenger must buy the round.

One of the most popular traditions in Detachment 1 is the "Shot in the Foot" award, their version of a foul up award.

The first time McIllece heard of a foul up award was while attending ROTC. He explained that at the end of each year, an old boot was handed out to the cadet that had committed the mostly widely acclaimed act of buffoonery.

"There were always many acts to choose from," he said.

The Shot in the Foot award at the det, which is better known as the SITF, is a small, fluorescent, stuffed figurine that is seated inside a colorfully decorated diaper wipes container. The recipient must carry the SITF with them wherever they go and if left unattended, they are likely to receive the SITF consecutive times.

"It's an award of ignominy and a source of both motivation and belonging. It is important to realize that it's not an act of hazing," McIllece said. "We meet and discuss lessons learned to review the good and the bad of what people are doing; we call it tactics and training. We vote as a group as to who should carry around the SITF. It's something that brings us together as a unit and reinforces the lessons learned from our mistakes."

Lt. Alex Choi is the current holder of the det's "Tactics Dictator for Life," or TDFL, and enjoys the responsibility of running the bi-monthly tactics meetings.

"One of the most enjoyable acts during tactics and training is to determine the newest SITF recipient," said Choi. "Past recipients have received the SITF for reasons ranging from misoperating a vacuum cleaner, missing a staff meeting because of a forgotten blues belt and attempting to change someone's call sign without notifying the TDFL. Recipients are determined by volume of applause and I admit that our tactics and training meetings can get quite rowdy."

Another tradition upheld in the detachment is the granting of calls signs, a tradition adopted by many military organizations, but most commonly associated with the flying community. McIllece explained that a great part of belonging to the Air Force test community is adopting the practice of using call signs - a tradition he is proud the detachment adheres to.

"It's a big part of the flying and test cultures and we've adopted it in the detachment," he said. "There are few rules involved, but the most basic are that you never give yourself a call sign and it's rarely changed unless your unit decides it is deserved."

For the younger military members of the detachment, the carrying on of traditions and knowledge of Air Force history is a foundation they will build upon during their entire military careers.

"It's pretty easy to get lost in the day-to-day tasks of your job," said Choi. "Heritage and tradition helps you keep the bigger picture in mind - the history of your organization, honoring your predecessors and appreciating the work they've done for you to be where you are today. It instills in you a sense of unity not just with your peers, but also the people who have come before you."

The military is steeped with history and deep-rooted traditions and as long as units like the 46th Test Squadron, Detachment 1, continue taking pride in them, they will forever carry on.

"As a commander, I'm interested in building Airmen, upholding the noble traditions of our service and building a sense of esprit de corps and unity within our unit," said McIllece. "There are many appropriate and extremely valuable traditions that go a long way to producing those ends and that's why we practice these storied Air Force traditions."