Hanscom Airmen build relationships during USAFA trip

  • Published
  • By Capt. Geoff Buteau
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
When Airmen from Hanscom made a trip out to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., a week ago, they were sure to be left with career-long memories. Surely the Air Force Academy football team's 35-7 trouncing of Army won't be forgotten, nor will the fanfare surrounding the game, from parachutists floating into the stadium and jet-fighters screaming-over it.

Then there are the memories of the formation of nearly 4,000 cadets on the Academy grounds before lunch one day, the crisp air and massive landscape of Colorado Springs, the teamwork exercises at 25 feet off the ground, or the arduous and sometimes uncomfortable flight to the Centennial State in a C-130, for 1800 miles, against the wind.

But when looking back at their experience, these Hanscom Airmen weren't talking about jet-fighters or hard-fought football games, it was all about building relationships.

Twenty-eight Airmen from various squadrons and organizations at Hanscom selected by their supervisors as high-level performers returned Sunday from a four-day trip sponsored by the 66th Air Base Wing to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they were exposed to officer training, built camaraderie among their fellow Hanscom Airmen, and, as they said, had fun doing it.

The trip idea started as part of the cadet squadron sponsorship program that exists between squadrons of cadets at the Academy and active-duty wings throughout the Air Force, said 1st Lt. Andrew Ramsey, operational contract manager with the 66th Contracting Squadron and organizer of the trip. Exposing the cadets to active-duty Airmen helps the cadets, who are in constant training mode, to get a view into the "real" Air Force.

In the case of this trip, it wasn't only the cadets that benefited, the Lieutenant said. "Before the trip, I was hoping that some of them looking for a commission, hoping to work with cadets in some way, or striving to become the top echelon of the enlisted ranks, would develop an appreciation for what challenges officers coming from the Academy go through."

The Airmen from Hanscom that went to the Academy were selected by first sergeants and commanders for their potential, said Senior Master Sgt. Raul Ruiz, 66th Air Base Wing first sergeant, who attended the trip. "We chose based on who we want to thank for their hard work and who we wanted to inspire to continue their service in the Air Force."

Working since July on everything from hotel reservations, activities to fill the days and military transport -- which courteously came from the members of Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson AFB, Colo. -- Lieutenant Ramsey finalized the itinerary and roster then received approval from Col. Dave Orr, 66th Air Base Wing commander, who also traveled with the group to Colorado Springs.

The group left Hanscom Field Nov. 5, arriving at Peterson that evening. After a quiet night where some sampled local Mexican food, it was off to bed before an early rise.

"Anyone here afraid of having fun?" asked Master Sergeant Eric Sandoval, the Air Force Academy's adventure-based learning course superintendent, the next day in front of the Hanscom Airmen on a dry and balmy Colorado morning. The ABLC is part of the Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development, where cadets learn and develop moral courage, he said.

Master Sgt. Sandoval ran a few team-building exercises with the group, then merged them with some of the Academy cadets doing the same thing nearby, formed a circle, and began to engage everyone on the expectations enlisted Airmen have of officers, and what that relationship should be.

Airman 1st Class Phillip Prather, an installation patrolman with the 66th Security Forces Squadron and officer hopeful, told everyone he's looking for an officer that listens to those around him, is dependable and doesn't back down from anything.

Sergeant Ruiz also spoke to the group about the expectations of officers. "We look to the officers to not be afraid to lead; we want them to trust their enlisted troops and learn from us."

Following a few more team- and trust-building exercises on the ground, the group from Hanscom tackled two more exercises, only this time, they were in the air.

The Big Blue Monster was essentially a square obstacle course approximately 25 feet in the air. Airmen start at one corner and traverse all four sides, each with a different type of support apparatus, including tight ropes, wobbly bridges, and rings.

"Somebody may have made it look easy, but until you got up there and experienced it for yourself, you realized it wasn't easy," said Staff Sgt. Scott Roy, the unit deployment manager with the 66th Security Forces Squadron.

The challenge of the course wasn't just to overcome a fear of heights, though. "It showed you a lot of teamwork," said Sergeant Roy. "You had to depend on somebody else that was looking out from the bottom and trust in everyone else that was around you."

What the other exercise -- called Bottleneck -- lacked in height (it was six feet off the ground), it made up for in amount of physical exertion required by its participants. The exercise pitted two teams of four against each other, each tasked with getting to the other team's side of the course. Between the two starting positions, though, were only two tight ropes formed in an x, meaning members of one team must force members of the other off the tight ropes to cross cleanly, supported only by harnesses attached to support cables above.

Master Sergeant John Carbon, 66th Security Forces Squadron first sergeant, called that a good example of developing teamwork as well. "I think we had fun on Bottleneck; all of us knew how much pain was involved, and we still did it and really enjoyed it," he said, "and that's how you build teamwork: you have physically competing against each other."

"Doing the confidence course immediately built our esprit de corps for the entire trip," said Colonel Orr.

After the ropes exercises, the group took tours of the Academy's academic buildings and dorms with the help from cadets at Squadron 39 and some of the lieutenants with the group who graduated from the Academy.

"It's like boot camp, times two," said Sergeant Roy.

"Now you know where their training to give the orders came from," said Staff Sergeant Tim Galloway, a paralegal with the Electronic Systems Center judge advocate office. He also said that seeing these cadets in training to become officers has motivated him to finish his undergraduate degree and study for the Air Force Officer Qualification Test so he can achieve his goal of becoming an officer. "It helped me realize that my own goals are within reach and definitely a possibility."

For Staff Sergeant Patrick Raass, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 350th Electronic Systems Wing's knowledge operation management section, seeing the extreme amount of expectation the Air Force puts on the cadets to succeed, he said, reinforces his role as an NCO, where he should foster the relationship between newly minted second lieutenants and senior enlisted Airmen.

"We talked a lot about the officer role and the enlisted role," said Sergeant Ruiz, "and in the Air Force, the officers lead the day-to-day mission, the NCOs run it, and the Airmen execute it."

But the takeaways weren't just about the professional relationship between an officer and an enlisted Airman.

"Spending so much time with everybody from Hanscom, it really is like a deployment," he said. "When you come back, you trust each other more, you know each other better and it builds relationships."

"I think the trip impacted the enlisted members by allowing them to get to know the lieutenants from here more," said Colonel Orr. "It showed our Airmen that even though these young lieutenants don't have as much experience in the Air Force, they care about theĀ enlisted cadreĀ and they wanted to put on a show for them."

From one of the most senior Airmen on the trip, Sergeant Carbon to one of the youngest, Airman 1st Class Eric Bellinger, 66th Air Base Wing Inspector General office, the personal relationships developed on the trip were what resonated the most among everyone.

"Talking to them now will make me more comfortable talking to senior enlisted airmen and officers in the future," said Airman Bellinger.

"The Air Force is 100 percent about building relationships," said Sergeant Carbon, "I don't get anything without the people I know and trust."

So while the myriad of activities orchestrated by Lieutenant Ramsey and his fellow Air Force Academy graduates now assigned to Hanscom -- including football games, hockey games, team-building exercises and campus tours -- were inspiring and will remain in the thoughts of their fellow Airmen for years, it's the relationships that were built during the trip that will continue to serve the Air Force for years.