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    Earning the black beret

    Earning the black beret

    Photo By 2nd Lt. Brigitte Brantley | U.S. Air Force Senior Airman John C. Brantley, assigned to the 165th Air Support...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Brigitte Brantley 

    509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

    HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. - Moments after the 10 young men form a V-shape on the stage, they are given one final order.

    “Eagle 98, you may blouse your boots and don your berets.”

    The lights dramatically fade to darkness. Now silhouetted against the film on screen behind them about their career field’s origins, the Airmen all bend downward in one swift motion.

    The movie finishes, the lights flare on and the audience sees for the first time the new Tactical Air Control Party (TAC-P) members wearing the outward signs of their new profession. Their combat boots, previously covered by their dress blues pants, are now bloused – a distinction allowed to only a handful of special careers within the Air Force.

    With this, Eagle 98 officially graduates from TAC-P technical training April 17, at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Atop each of their heads is a black beret adorned by the TAC-P crest. With this comes the eventual expectation that they will deploy with Army units to help call in airstrikes, among many other duties.

    Classes are named after aircraft – Eagle, Raptor, Hawk, Falcon – and in sequential order, meaning there have been 97 other Eagle classes before the current one.

    “It’s the first time my friends and family get to see the culmination of everything I’ve gone through,” said Senior Airman John C. Brantley, assigned to the 165th Air Support Operations Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard. He added that the attendance of his father, a retired chief master sergeant, was particularly meaningful.

    “I’ve been pursuing this type of career for a long time now and so to have my dad out in the crowd finally see me join this community is a big deal,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’m proud of. To have him be there to show me that he’s proud of me and to support me in it means a lot to me.”

    Brantley previously spent three years in the active-duty Air Force. For the first part of his career, he attempted to become a pararescueman, and then a survival, escape, resistance and evasion specialist. After those failed attempts, he became a logistics supply troop. After setting his mind on becoming a TAC-P, he left active duty and joined the guard in order to get one of their slots.

    “You don’t really see too many people willing to go out of their way and do everything they can for the person next to them, but here, that’s the norm,” he said. “This career field is so linked together and the brotherhood is so strong.”

    Watching the graduates interact with each other before the ceremony starts, it’s easy to see the camaraderie that has been forged through tough times together. The conversations revolve around “field,” a five-day event where the candidates averaged three hours of sleep the entire time.

    Jokes abound on how this time was like the Hunger Games, with people being eliminated left and right.

    Now that the fear of failure for these select few has passed, a sense of relief permeates the room. Smiles come freely as they introduce each other to their loved ones. Inside jokes fly easily – “Hey Twig, need a sock?” “Is Simple Jack confused again?”

    They relive the earning of call signs. Brantley, whose mannerisms many compare to the Eric Foreman character from “That ‘70s Show,” is simply Foreman.

    They also took other notes of his personality -- witty, confident, fun, tough “SOB,” always smiling, sharp.

    In addition to the grueling field exercise, candidates face constant evaluation as they become adept at many skills including air operations, land navigation, rappelling and marksmanship.

    “The one thing I hope I imparted on everyone else was that no matter how bad something sucks, there’s always something to smile about,” he said. “And no matter how tired or hungry or wet or cold you are, there’s always something to laugh about.”

    Brantley’s mentality helped many of his teammates during the months of physical and mental challenges. To them, failing wasn’t an option.

    “The strong shall stand and the weak will fall by the wayside,” Brantley said, quoting a TAC-P phrase. “Every so often, you’ll see the guys who fell by the wayside. You’ll see them around the schoolhouse before they out-process and there’s a certain aura about them, where part of them knows they just weren’t strong enough. You definitely never want to be the weak one.”

    Unwavering support from each other was one of the main things that helped the men make it through.

    “Fortunately, the group of guys I got to go through this process with are all amazing characters,” he said. “We’ve got people from all walks of life that have come together to provide an amazing team. Everyone’s extremely supportive of each other … It’s the best group of guys someone could ask to go through training with.”

    They are all hesitant to take credit for any individual accomplishments.

    For example -- the coveted Commander’s Award. Akin to an honor graduate, it is earned by a single candidate from each class who has achieved high levels of academic and physical success while not failing a single evaluation. This time, the awardee was Brantley.

    “Earning the Commander’s Award was a nice capstone on everything that’s happened over the last few years, between crosstraining and the sacrifice of missing watching my son grow up,” he said. “Even though I was recognized as an individual, it’s impossible to achieve something like that without a group of guys willing to sacrifice with you.”

    The graduates on stage, now proudly wearing their black berets, represent the few who were strong enough to make it through selection and into the close-knit TAC-P brotherhood.



    Date Taken: 04.17.2015
    Date Posted: 04.24.2015 09:01
    Story ID: 161107
    Location: HURLBURT FIELD, FL, US 

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