An Airman visits Arlington National Cemetery

Defining her AF heritage: A military training leader’s journey

By Tech. Sgt. Quinn White
336th Training Squadron, Det. 2

Being stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, there are many opportunities to venture to Washington D.C., such as when the Det. 2 staff attended the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference.

My commander and I decided one presentation we really wanted to see was Gen. Robin Rand, the Commander of Air Education and Training Command. It is not often a person can hear directly from their major command commander about the direction of the organization, and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

An Airman shakes hands with a survivor of the Bataan Death March
Tech. Sgt. Quinn White (then Tech. Sgt. Quinn Rakosnik), a 336th Training Squadron military training leader, visits with a survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March. (Courtesy photo)

During his speech, Gen. Rand talked about how AETC is instilling heritage into our Airmen and said something that really made me think: “History makes you smarter, but heritage makes you prouder.”

This quote made me wonder where I derived my love for the Air Force from and how, just in the past few years, it shines more than ever. I continued to think about it and realized there was no specific event or briefing that made me proud of my heritage — it was the last 11 years since the moment I stepped into my recruiter’s office that gave me this pride.

My Air Force recruiter had been helpful, but he seemed like a car salesman from the beginning. If it hadn’t been for the Airmen participating in the Recruiter’s Assistance Program at the time, I might have walked out.

The Airmen told me stories about basic and their experiences in technical training. They expressed that it didn’t feel like a job — more like a family unit. People looked after each other, and friends could be found around every corner.

Coming from a large family, I felt comfort in knowing it might not just be a “job.” Like many, I joined for a selfish reason. I didn’t want to work a dead-end job or be stuck in the same town for the rest of my life. College would be paid for, and there would be endless opportunities to travel. I knew I wanted to do something exciting, but I was confused as to what it was going to be.

I remember glancing at the photos around my recruiter’s office. There were planes with different paintings on them and men smoking cigarettes while getting inside a cockpit. At the time, the paintings did not mean much to me; they simply looked like artwork out of an old movie.

The night before leaving for basic military training, I stayed in an old dorm room that had been converted into billeting at the 911th Airlift Wing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I thought about how much I was going to miss Pennsylvania. I called it home for almost 13 years, and it was where my family was located. I sat in my room that night and thought about how hard it was going to be to leave.

Spending two long years in college and working two jobs to support myself was tiring. My parents had been helping with my tuition, but times were getting tough. There wasn’t enough money to go around to support myself and my three sisters.

Basic training wasn’t fun, and at times, I was confused about why we did certain things. I kept getting yelled at about something involving “12 to the front and 6 to the rear,” and not running “from point A to point B.” Everyone was in such a hurry, and I was still trying to figure out what having “a sense of urgency” meant. Everything was a blur, but I do remember being proud of how clean the blinds were in the dayroom as that was my nightly detail.

The concepts of camaraderie and teamwork did not hit me until the day a fellow female Airman’s locker was dumped, her stuff scattered across the bay. We were going to be inspected in an hour and other females in the flight still had small tasks to accomplish. Instead of taking care of our own tasks, we all pulled together and put her locker back in inspection order. Although a small task, it started building my understanding of what the Air Force is all about.

After graduation, I attended tech school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, as a vehicle operator. I still did not know much about the Air Force, and I didn’t know what to think about attending a joint service school. We still stood in line everywhere we went and marched to wherever we were going. After my first week, the banter came from the other branches. The Marines made fun of our physical training, the Army would ask where our butlers stayed, and the Navy just watched and laughed. My friends and I started to adapt to military living, but gave into emotions when the stress of being away from home was overwhelming. Tech school paved the way to understanding heritage more than I thought when leaving.

When I saw that my first assignment was Ramstein Air Base, Germany, I looked at my military training leader and asked him what state it was in. As he walked away laughing, he told me to start learning German.

Once I arrived on station, everything was an adventure. I witnessed that the Air Force was the hub of all branches, and it was a nonstop job.

A valued memory I have was watching a C-5 Galaxy land and unload caskets of our fallen before being loaded onto aircraft headed for their hometowns. At the time, everything and everyone just stopped what they were doing and saluted the fallen, without prompting from a commander or official order.

Everyone gave thanks in their own way. It affected everyone. It was a powerful scene for a young Airman and one that impacts me to this day when I think about our fallen comrades.

Today, I am a military training leader charged with leading our new Airmen. Everything I learned coming up through the ranks is now evident in how I teach young Airmen every day. There is purpose and pride behind Air Force training and traditions, although it is not often apparent at first glance.

The photos from my recruiter’s office mean more to me now, as does the memory of how the females in my flight were able to pull together. The men and women whom I deployed with showed me heritage. The friendly banter with the other service branches showed me heritage. Living our core values, and serving with our brothers and sisters-in-arms every day is what makes us American Airmen.

Everything we go through as Airmen is associated with our heritage. I am proud of my time in the Air Force and of the heritage I am able to now impart on our newest Airmen. History does make people smarter, but heritage will always make me prouder.