News: Gateway to the Air Force gets a new look
Story by Edward Rivera
SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training has its first new look at the gateway to the Air Force for civilians on their way to becoming warrior airmen.
The 37th Training Wing hosted a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Dec. 7 for the first new facilities for basic training in 36 years. The 272,000 square-foot, four-story dormitory will be able to house approximately 1,200 recruits and provide administrative offices, day rooms and a dining and classroom facility.
“This facility honors the airmen that will come through here,” said Col. Mark Camerer, commander, 37th Training Wing.
The Air Force began planning the “campus” about 10 years ago wanting eight dormitories, four dining/classroom facilities, and other associated facilities that would withstand decades of rigorous training to comprise the "campus."
“This complex defines the new look of the gateway to the Air Force,” said Peter Holland, contractor, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction Inc., one of nine general contractors working within the ATC footprint.
A program of this magnitude and complexity required teams from various organizations to come together and function at high levels within a short amount of time. The Air Force Civil Engineering Center and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland teams worked with the design firm and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and coordinate this construction effort.
“It’s a great day for this beautiful facility, I’m very proud to be a part of this team effort,” said Col. Charles H. Klinge, Jr., commander Fort Worth District, USACE. “It’s very exciting to see the first dorm and dining/classroom become a physical reality.”
Participating in the dedication of the first of 12 new dormitories and the first of four dining/classroom facilities at JBSA-Lackland for the Corps Lackland Area and ATC Resident Office staffs was a momentous event.
“Although there were many obstacles and funding challenges to overcome, the end products speak for themselves. Both the ATC No. 1 dormitory and DCF No. 1 dining/classroom facility are a testament to what a dedicated team of Air Force and Army members can accomplish knowing that they will have a lasting impact on the future basic military training mission of the Air Force," Said Ron Richardson, project manager, Fort Worth District.
As the 323rd Training Squadron prepares to transition its first trainees to the new facility within the coming days, those recruits will be reminded daily of Air Force Core Values, Integrity, Excellence and Service Before Self by the ATC’s namesake Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger.
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, the first building was officially named the Etchberger Training Complex in honor of the chief master sergeant who was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross in 1968, later upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2010. An excerpt from his citation reads:
“Despite having received little or no combat training, Chief Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy with an M-16, while simultaneously directing air strikes into the area and calling for air rescue. Because of his fierce defense and heroic and selfless actions, he was able to deny the enemy access to his position and save the lives of his remaining crew. With the arrival of the rescue aircraft, Chief Etchberger, without hesitation, repeatedly and deliberately risked his own life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings hanging from the hovering helicopter waiting to airlift them to safety. With his remaining crew safely aboard, Chief Etchberger finally climbed into an evacuation sling himself, only to be fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as he was being raised into the aircraft.”
“Etchberger’s heroism, Courage and humility enabled him to do what he did,” said the 5th Chief Master Sgt of the Air Force Bob Gaylord, guest speaker for the event.
Gaylord went on to say that America has to decide the price it’s willing to pay to maintain a state of preparedness and a posture of readiness as he recalled the attack on Pearl Harbor exactly 71 years ago and the more recent attacks on 9-11.
“We must continue to provide for the future now. This facility will not only house future airmen, but will also be used to prepare and train the outstanding military training instructors that will teach and mentor those recruits.”
According to Tech. Sgt. Benny Fields, military training instructor, 323rd TRS there are a lot of new features that will improve the quality of training for trainees as well as being more user friendly for the instructors. “Every item was placed in the dorms to make things faster, safer and sustainable.”
The 323rd TRS, the first of eight squadrons to move into a new dormitory, also known as the “Mustangs,” draw their lineage and namesake from the original Tuskegee Airmen who served with valor from 1941–1946. Dr. Granville Coggs an original Tuskegee Airman was on hand for the ceremony and dedication.
As a new era in Air Force basic training begins with this new complex, the name Etchberger prominently displayed will continue to remind the graduating Airmen of the legacy of service and sacrifices of the men and women who came before them.
“There are few things worse than death, one is to be forgotten,” said Chief Etchberger’s son Cory. “We are honored and proud that our father’s service will always be remembered.”