At Kadena, new airmen can turn to FTAC for help while settling in
Stars and Stripes May 30, 2008
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — When Airman 1st Class Javier Amaya arrived at Kadena Air Base last month, his personal belongings didn’t arrive with him.
The delay forced the 20-year-old, fresh from technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, to report to his first duty station without a uniform.
Amaya turned to leadership at Kadena’s First Term Airmen Center, which helps familiarize new airmen with the base and Air Force life.
"They not only helped me get a uniform, they went to the Airmen’s Attic and picked out a uniform for me," said Amaya, who is assigned to the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. "I was really appreciative of that. You always hear about doing things for the group, for the mission, but to take time to do something for the individual means a lot."
For the past eight years, FTAC has helped new airmen make the transition from the regimented pace of technical school into their new jobs and life at their first duty station.
"We try to do everything we can to get them started on the right path," said FTAC instructor Staff Sgt. Jason Sigman of the 25th Intelligence Squadron.
The two-week course covers the mandatory Air Force briefings, cultural awareness, base policies, health care, legal aid and personal finances. Classes average about 34 students per course, with three instructors.
But more importantly, the program helps alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with a big move, which can be tough when you’re the new kid on the block, said Airman 1st Class Sheena Raya Olaes, 20, of the 18th Medical Operations Squadron.
Olaes, who recently graduated from the course, said the guidance from the instructors boosted her confidence.
"You’re kind of scared and tense after technical school and to know them, you’re thankful," she said. "They take time to sit with you. It made me take more pride in my uniform and just being in the Air Force."
Prior to the FTAC program, in-processing a first-term airmen took three to six months to complete, with airmen being constantly pulled from their units to participate in required briefings and fill out paperwork, officials say. The process left supervisors short-staffed and made it difficult to train new servicemembers.
Today, FTAC instructors help new airmen complete most of their in-processing paperwork, check in with the base medical and dental clinics, and ensure that after two weeks of guidance and training they’re mentally, physically and technically ready to work.
Master Sgt. Jerry Laney of the 18th Mission Support Squadron, who oversees the FTAC program, said there’s still a misperception among supervisors that participation in the program leaves their units understaffed.
"They think that their airmen are not here, we can’t do the mission. But they need to look at what they’re gaining," Laney stressed. "And that’s airmen who are confident and understand the mission without complaints."
Laney said FTAC instructors are able to address issues that can arise — like a death in the family or helping a spouse go through the proper channels to move overseas — that supervisors don’t have the time to deal with.
"The personal issues we’re dealing with, the supervisors don’t have to. We’ve taken care of that," Laney said.
Airman 1st Class Demarcus Cranfill, 20, of the 718th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said he was surprised to find the briefings were not "death by PowerPoint." A session on personal finances prompted him to open a savings account.
"We learned about investing and saving money," he said, "so when I retire I’ll have a separate retirement plan instead of just the one the military gives you."
Students are trained in dress and appearance, and receive augmentee security forces training. In between demanding physical training and briefings, instructors squeeze in social activities to get them acquainted with Okinawa and give them a chance to socialize with peers.
Spouses also have the opportunity to participate during a one-day workshop hosted by Marianne Williams, the spouse of the 18th Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Brett Williams, designed to introduce them to Kadena’s services and programs for families.
Ana Dickinson, 24, whose husband is an airman first class in the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, said the briefing was helpful.
"My husband and I are both hermits," she said during a break at a briefing two weeks ago. "But this has really helped us come out and make friends and get play dates for the kids."
It’s the personal interaction that both students and instructors find most rewarding — knowing they have someone to turn to during a stressful situation.
"It makes you feel really good," said FTAC instructor Staff Sgt. Melanie Stine of the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron. "You consider it something small, but they’re so appreciative."