Today it really felt like we were getting started. All of the administrative in-processing was done. Well, it was mostly done. There are about twenty people who are supposed to be in our class but who haven’t shown up yet because of the inclement weather. (Yes, it is still freezing here.) But there was a marked transition from a chaotic administrative mess to an actual military leadership school. It was the blue line ceremony.
We all showed up for our first class of the date at 0500 (yes, every weekday our classes start at 5:00 a.m.) in full ABU uniform. It was a class on how the PT would be run. Finally, some PT was coming our way! I stayed awake—but I’m a morning person. It’s the afternoon sessions that I’m worried about, especially if I keep getting only four hours of sleep each night. At the close of class, some MTIs at the back of the class started yelling at us (of course) to get up, put our jackets on, grab our gear, and file outside a side door in the auditorium. Seeing as how it was still shortly before 6am in January, it was still dark. Very dark. I found myself trudging (well, more like hustling given the constant stream of verbal correction from the MTIs) across a grass field staring at the feet of the person in front of me to make sure I didn’t trip. It seemed to me that we were somewhere near Welch Field – the parade area on which our graduation ceremony will be held.
I glanced up and saw the column of trainees filing into a line to my right, facing a kind of outdoor amphitheater with steps and a raised platform. It was lit up dimly. There were men and women in uniform on the steps and platform, including one who was standing next to a podium. And there were flags. The American flag and the Air Force flag. As I filed in line facing the podium, the MTIs were yelling at all of us to squeeze in to the right and get shoulder to shoulder and stay behind the line. There was a clear plastic ropelike tube, about one inch in diameter, in front of the podium. I walked up to it and squeezed to my right as instructed. The MTIs were still yelling. Step to your right! Tighten up! Oh, look at all this room we found! Get in line! We shuffled around and finally got in tight enough to each other to satisfy the MTIs. The girl next to me was shivering something terrible.
In front of the long line of trainees I was standing in were nine people, evenly spaced out, facing us. I recognized them as Officer Training School (OTS) training staff—not MTIs, but the people who had been shuttling us through all of the inprocessing the past two days. Behind them were three other OTS staff members, again evenly spaced out. And behind them, in the dim half-light, I made out Capt Swavely. He had introduced himself as second-in-command of the COT program in one of our first lectures. That meant that the man behind him and up on a raised section of the amphitheater, next to the podium, must have been Lt Col Ackerman, the head officer in charge of our COT class.
We were all at the position of attention. Heels together making a 45-degree angle, shoulders back, chest out, hands cupped and pinned to the sides of our thighs, chins up, looking straight ahead. The only sounds I heard were the chattering of teeth and the slight rustling of jackets as the chill shook people all around me.
From off to the right I heard someone shout Sir, Alpha Flight is present and accounted for! The next sounds came at the speed of a whip crack. Sir, Bravo Flight is present and accounted for! Sir, Charlie Flight is present and accounted for! Sir, Delta Flight is present and accounted for! Through my peripheral vision I could see that the people speaking were in the first row of nine OTS training staff facing us. From my right to my left, they were executing a crisp about-face, saluting, and reporting. Once all flights had checked in (Alpha through India), the reporting continued with the next row of three people. Sir, Falcon Squadron is present and accounted for! Sir, Guardian Squadron is present and accounted for! Sir, Griffin Squadron is present and accounted for! Then Capt Swavely whipped around and reported Sir, COT Class 11-02 is present and accounted for!
After watching myself and my fellow trainees struggle to maintain any semblance of a military bearing the last couple of days, this was impressive. All the movements were crisp. Their voices were clear and loud. They stood as still as statues after reporting. Then Lt Col Ackerman turned around to face the flag, and the national anthem started. Everyone saluted. Us trainees were packed in so tight that we had to angle our arms forward to be able to raise them to our temples. And we’d had no actual instruction on how to salute, so I know that a lot of people—especially those with no prior service, like me—felt that we were doing it all wrong.
When the national anthem stopped, Lt Col Ackerman and all of the OTS staff turned around to face us again. Lt Col Ackerman spoke. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but he gave a pretty long welcome speech. Long enough for me to wonder if some of my classmates were going to drop dead from the cold. The abridged version goes something like this: Welcome, COT Class 11-02! We salute you and commend you for your patriotism and we look forward to the next few weeks of your training. This is your blue line ceremony. In front of you, on the ground, is a blue line. On those words, as we all glanced down at our feet, the clear rubber tubing directly in front of our feet turned into a bright blue rope of light. That line symbolizes the commitment you are making by entering the United States Air Force. If you are ready and willing to take that commitment, step over the blue line. We all stepped over (of course, not in unison). The first row of OTS staff reported. Sir, Alpha Flight has stepped over the blue line! Sir, Bravo Flight has stepped over the blue line! And so on, until all flights had checked in. We had all stepped over. Lt Col Ackerman continued, speaking to us of commitment and integrity and self-sacrifice. He closed by having us recite, with him, the Airman’s Creed:
I am an American Airman.
I am a warrior.
I have answered my nation’s call.
I am an American Airman,
My mission is to fly, fight, and win.
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
A tradition of honor,
And a legacy of valor.
I am an American Airman.
Guardian of freedom and justice,
My nation’s sword and shield,
Its sentry and avenger.
I defend my country with my life.
I am an American Airman.
Wingman, leader, warrior,
I will never leave an Airman behind.
I will never falter,
And I will not fail.
And then it ended. We were rounded up and marched to the chow hall, where we were yelled at more for failing to greet OTS training staff correctly and not sitting at attention while eating. I didn’t really pay attention that much to all of it, though. I was thinking about that ceremony. It was pretty darn cool. I felt happy and proud, despite being frozen to the bone. Pretty darn cool.
|This is a picture I found online from another blue line ceremony. Ours was better than this because we were all in uniform and the line was straight. But this gives you an idea of it.|