I watched my nephew’s United States Air Force (USAF) Basic Military Training graduation ceremony on September 3, 2020. I finished basic training in October 1972. I knew about some of the changes in basic training, and the USAF. over the years. Watching the ceremony live stream on Facebook punctuated how much has changed. Over 4,100 watched the live stream. Changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic added to illustrate how different things are in the 21st century.
Down to Basics
Before the live stream went live there were film clips showing the recruits in training. There were also statements from some of the recruits.
When I went through basic training women (WAF) didn’t do KP[i]. It wasn’t a cause for complaint KP in the WAF kitchen was easier than in other kitchens. WAF made up a small percentage of the USAF at the time. A few months later WAF started performing KP. When the 25th Anniversary of the WAF approached Major General Jeanne M. Holm declared it the last WAF anniversary. The WAF ended in 1976.
When I went through basic there were 3 days of field training. One day was for the obstacle course. One day was for dry fire training. That was where they introduced us to the M16A1 rifle. The next day was for wet fire training. That’s where they gave us bullets and let us fire the M16A1 rifles. They upgraded our training from previous recruits. Previous recruits were given 10 rounds to sight their weapons and 50 rounds for qualification. We were given 10 rounds to sight, 90 rounds practice, and 90 rounds to qualify. Women recruits didn’t get this training until a couple of year later.
The USAF has since extended basic training from 6 weeks[ii] to 7 ½ weeks. The extra training time is for combat skills. The film clips showed recruits breaking down and assembling rifles, and other combat training.
[i] KP stands for “Kitchen Police” or “Kitchen Patrol”. It involves cleaning the kitchen and serving meals.
[ii] There were 30 training days in this program, hence the nickname, 30-day wonders.
There was no graduation ceremony when I was in basic training. The Air Force reinstated basic training graduation ceremonies within a couple of years after I graduated. It was about the same time the USAF instituted service ribbons for graduating basic training.[i]
I went to an Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) graduation ceremony when someone from my office got a commission. That was circa 1980. The ceremony seemed standard. There was a posting of the flags of the 50 states. The ceremony was short and ended with the hat toss. When cadets toss their hats at service academies, they won’t need them anymore. They will be wearing officer’s caps, not cadet caps. When OCS candidates toss their hats, they will need them. The OCS ceremony hat toss was immediately followed by the new second lieutenants scrambling to retrieve them.
Everyone attending the September 3, 2020 ceremony was wearing a mask. The military were wearing black masks and Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms. The masks were because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 3, 2020 there were almost 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States.[ii] In the 1970s such a formation was normally carried out in something other than the utility uniform.[iii] The men and women’s utility uniforms were different but considered equally uncomplimentary. In the early 1980s USAF Chief of Staff General Lew Allen, Jr. implemented the “Project Warrior” program. This meant people in jobs where they wouldn’t wear utility uniforms had to wear them on a designated day each month. After Operation Desert Storm wearing Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs) became in vogue.
The 2020 ceremony included a fly-by of a flight of T-6As from Randolph Air Force Base.
During the 2020 ceremony the airmen recited their oath of enlistment. They also recited the Airman’s Creed. In 1972 the Airman’s Creed did not exist. There was the Code of Conduct. One of the training classes was to point out the Code of Conduct was something to take seriously. A Pararescue man, who served as one in Vietnam, taught that class.[iv]
Part of the 2020 ceremony was handing the graduates coins. While coin history dates back to World War I, which was mentioned in the speech while the graduates were given the coins, they weren’t popularly known in the 1970s. They apparently got a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s.
The speakers commonly referred to the United States Air and Space Force. The United States Space Force became a separate service on December 20, 2019. In 1972, the silver anniversary of the USAF, the Air Force boasted being the newest of the service branches. This meant in joint service parades the USAF unit was the last to pass in review.
The speakers also frequently proclaimed the USAF to be the greatest air force the world has ever known. In 1972 such spirit was in short supply. It was accepted the Israeli Air Force was the best. Many recruits, and other Air Force members, were “draft motivated”[v]. The relative competence of the USAF was irrelevant to them.
[i] The Fort George G. Meade newspaper, “Sound Off” had a cartoon mocking the Air Force ribbon. It wasn’t long before the U.S. Army had a matching service ribbon.
[ii] According to John Hopkins there were 39,670 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed on September 3, 2020, https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6, last accessed, 9/8/2020.
[iii] The utility uniform, commonly called fatigues, for men was a green uniform pants and shirt, and a baseball cap. Women fatigues were dark blue pants and a blue shirt. Caps for women were optional since the blue beret was not suitable for fatigue duties.
[iv] The nightly news often showed film footage of downed airmen who seemed to be breaking the oath.
[v] “Draft motivated” was a term the Air Force used for men who joined the Air Force to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 19, 2020:
That's interesting. When I went in my uncles who were in less than 20 years earlier told me things that were woefully out of date. I knew, correctly, my experiences would probably be the same or worse.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on October 19, 2020:
Robert, the ceremonies and traditions have not changed but the flying training syllabus has undergone a sea change.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 18, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Any insight as to changes in IAF training?
MG Singh emge from Singapore on October 18, 2020:
Having gone through training for the IAF and also flown with USAF in exercises , I found your article stimulating and interesting.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 18, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Often with war veterans it takes a long time for them to talk about their experiences. In some cases they never do.
RoadMonkey on October 18, 2020:
It's interesting to find that ceremonies and training have changed over the years. Never having been in the military, this is all new to me, though my father and his generation (who fought in WWII) had lots of stories to tell about life in the desert or going up through Italy. My father was one of the first into one of the concentration camps at the end of the war but he would never talk about that to us,children.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 16, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found it interesting.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 16, 2020:
Interesting account of the graduation ceremony.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 11, 2020:
Thank you all for reading and commenting. COVID-19 has made a complete mess of things. It was good the Air Force was able to pull off the ceremony in spite of it. Comparing now to 1/2 a century ago is an eye opener.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 11, 2020:
Congratulations to your nephew and you both for serving our country. COVID has changed many things, including graduation ceremonies, among others all across our land.
Liz Westwood from UK on September 11, 2020:
This is a fascinating comparison of your experience and what happens now.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 11, 2020:
The Air Force is really in your family. Congratulations. It is interesting to know how things happen in the graduation ceremonies of the Air Force.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 10, 2020:
Congratulations to your nephew and thanks for your service to our country.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 10, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. When I was going in my uncles gave me some advice. All of it was woefully out of date. So I figured what I would describe to my nephew would have little connection with reality.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 10, 2020:
My husband was in the Air Force during Vietnam. Then, my son served and my grandson served in the Navy. I guess things have changed for the graduations, Robert, I think this is an interesting article.