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FTAC: not so mundane

  • Published
  • By Airman Ryan Throneberry
  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
Mandatory is not a word that invokes a sense of enjoyment or pleasure. After recently completing both Basic Military Training and my technical training school, mandatory was a word I was all too familiar with.

Upon arrival to my first duty station here at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, I knew there would be a slew of mandatory briefings I would have to sit through. When my sponsor, Airman 1st Class Dennis Sloan, told me about the First Term Airman Center course, my eyes began to glaze over at just the thought of a week-long briefing.

Originally, my course was scheduled for the week after Hurricane Irene. By some stroke of luck, the good people at FTAC decided to reschedule to the four-day week after Labor Day. I rejoiced at the idea of one less day of monotonous slide shows and PowerPoint presentations.

As Sept. 6 came around, I saddled up and headed to FTAC with my caffeinated courage in hand for our 7 a.m. start time. The building was under construction so contractors with hard hats were walking to and from. The building was clearly older than most on base and was receiving what seemed to be a much-needed face lift. I walked into the lounge area as other Airmen were signing in. My class of 28 first-termers shuffled into the small adjacent auditorium where I assumed we would be spending the majority of the week.

Tech. Sgt. April Ashjian, 87th Force Support Squadron FTAC NCO in charge, warmly welcomed us to the course as she laid out the plans for the week and gave a brief summary of her time in the Air Force. She then opened the floor to all of us to share our name, job title and hometown. Ashjian had a very pleasant demeanor about her which was a plus considering the circumstances.

All the while, the giant projector loomed overhead, mocking me with its quiet hum, as I mentally prepared myself for, as Sloan so eloquently put it, 'death by PowerPoint.' Much to my relief, Ashjian assured us she would do her best to not bury us under a mountain of slides.

Our first speaker was Navy Capt. Andrew Butterfield, JB MDL deputy commander. He introduced himself and told us how his career led him here. He spoke mainly of the significance and uniqueness of our joint base. Apparently, we are the only joint base of our kind anywhere. I thought it was really great how one of the second in command here would be kind enough to take time out of his day to speak with us. A Navy O-6 conversing with us really hammered home the idea that we were now part of a joint base community where all services are present and play an active role in our mission.

The rest of the week was spent absorbing vital information every Airman in my shoes would need. When I say we talked to everybody, I truly mean it. From TRICARE to the safety office, FTAC wanted to cover all the bases. Of all the presentations and briefings we received, my absolute favorite was from the Area Defense Council.

Tech Sgt. Lana Eliopoulos, a defense paralegal with the council, told us of the trials and tribulations that come with being a young Airman. After all, E-1 to E-4's make up 90 percent of all Article 15s in the Air Force.

Besides giving the obvious advice of staying out of trouble, Eliopoulos went into great detail regarding how we could avoid needing assistance from her office. Not only was her brief insightful, but she also had a way with words, so to speak. She made it clear she would do everything in her power to help us if need be, but she sincerely hoped that would not be necessary.

During the week, we took short field trips to places like the Education Office and the Warfighter and Family Readiness Center to avoid becoming stagnant in our room. It was good for us to venture out into the base where would we be living and working for the next few years.

My original goal for FTAC was to get through the course without falling asleep. Little did I know how valuable all this information would be. I think every Airman has a preconceived notion of what a mandatory class compromises. Fortunately, the FTAC at JB MDL was anything but commonplace.

Being the new guy is never easy, especially in the world's greatest Air Force. I would likely have become lost in the fold without programs like this one. The things I gained during this course above all were friends, career-development advice and a deeper understanding of the JB MDL culture. FTAC was one of many steps I have taken this past year to become an active-duty Airman. I only hope I can wisely use the tools and advice given to me.