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171st basic training graduates honored by commander's visit

April 2009 --      About 900 Airmen graduate Air Force Basic Military Training every Friday morning at Lackland AFB, San Antonio.  13 Airmen from the 171st Air Refueling Wing graduated together on Feb. 27.  More than 20 unit members attended the ceremony to celebrate their achievements and welcome them to the 171st family.  The distinguished guests included Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff, 171st ARW Commander and Brig. Gen Randall Marchi, Assistant Adjutant General - army, PA Army National Guard.
     "I was completely honored and stunned," said Airman 1st Class Clayton Schulter, 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron.  "For Gen. Uptegraff and the command chief to come here is incredible.  It shows all the support we have back home."
     "I think our presence there just displayed how much we value their service from the beginning of their career to the end of their career," said Uptegraff.  "We're going to be there for them."
     Due to the transition from six-week basic training to eight-week basic training, there was a delay in getting BMT start dates for some enlistees.  The recruits' training dates were entered simultaneously to ensure they attended basic training within one year of their enlistment date.
     Before the Airmen graduated, they were individually presented their Airmen's coins by their training instructor.  Family and friends lined the square drill pad next to the welcome center as they anxiously awaited their first opportunity to reunite with their loved ones after more than two months of separation.
     As Ray Charles' rendition of 'America the Beautiful' played in the background, a transformation occurred before the crowd's eyes.  After eight and a half weeks of intense education, these trainees officially earned the title of 'Airman.'
     The Airmen's coin and retreat ceremony was added to the graduation festivities in 2007.  Gen. Marchi used one word to describe the coin ceremony during his first visit to Air Force Basic Training, "Outstanding," Marchi said.
     "I was so impressed with the coin ceremony especially the recognition of the families, Airmen and all service members."
     The graduation is comprised of drill and ceremony at the parade grounds surrounded by static aircraft showcasing the tradition and heritage of the Air Force.  As part of the ritual, Airmen pass in review the official party and reaffirm their oath of enlistment.  Following the ceremony, Gen. Uptegraff presented his coin to each of the graduates.
     "I saw the pride in the eyes of our Airmen, pride in the presence of the families and certainly pride in the presence of our leaders from Pennsylvania," said Gen. Uptegraff.  "It was, without a doubt, an uplifting experience."
     The wing's student flight has had a profound effect on the preparation of basic training for recruits and the number of honor graduates at the 171st.  Airman 1st Class Megan Clancy and Katie Mulvihill were added to the long list of basic training honor graduates at the 171st.
     Being a part of the student flight helped prepare Mulvihill for basic training.  "I knew what my expectations were and I could concentrate on my military bearing," she said.