Friday, March 9, 2012

Graduation Week/end WOT 8

 (This is a long one people, so bear with me... oh, and enjoy!)
This past week has been the best I've had in two months, and that's because I finally got to see my husband!  For those of you still waiting, trust me, it gets easier and it gets better.  Once you're over that one month hump, you have something to really plan for and look forward to - GRADUATION WEEKEND!

Here are some of the activities and requirements for Week Eight:
– Airmanship and core values
– Formal retreat/Airman’s coin ceremony
– Haircuts
– Technical school briefing
– Commanders departure briefing
– Town pass briefing
– Graduation

The week started on Tuesday around 6pm when the family and I (consisting of my mom, dad, brother, and 'sis-in-law') squeezed into a mid-size SUV and started the 16+ hour drive to San Antonio, TX.  We arrived at Lackland AFB around 11am on Wednesday and were immediately checked into our TLF (temporary lodging facility) at the Gateway Villa.  Not only did they allow us to check-in early, but they extended our stay two extra days - they only let you make reservations for 3 days at a time, but tell you to ask the attendant at the reception desk if there are availabilities for the other days you want to stay!  The TLFs have a full queen-sized bed, a pull-out sofa, a small living/dining room, and a full kitchen equipped with service for 6 with pots and pans and Tupperware!  It allowed us to prepare meals for our Airman and give him good, quality, homecookin' (and save us some money in the process).  We were so blessed and I couldn't be more thankful.

Thursday started at 3:30am when all five of us woke up to get ready for the Airman's Run & Coin Ceremony.  We, of course, were the first ones on the street to pick our spot for the Airman's Run.  Then I attended the 7am briefing and returned to the family to wait until 8am for the run to take place:

(These were trainees setting up chairs for the handicapped section - Not a single guest in sight!)

(The whole motley crue!)

(5th one back in the first row!)

(They chanted the whole run!  It was AWESOME!)

(There He Is! Love those BCG's!!!)

After the run, it was a mad dash to the "Coin Pad" to get the best seat in the house, which we totally did!!  The downside was that we had to wait TWO AND A HALF HOURS until the Coin Ceremony started.  It was a tad cramped, to say the least!  But when he came out, knowing in a short while I'd get to touch him, it didn't seem so bad.  The coin ceremony is pretty much the official change from "trainee" to "airman" where they receive a literal "coin" as a symbol of their achievements.

"At around 11am on the Thursday of graduation week, the flights will be marched to the ceremony pad for the Airman's Coin Ceremony, where they will be presented with the Air Force Airman's Coin.  After this event, they'll no longer be called "trainee." They've earned the right to be called "Airman."  Many airman consider this to be one of the most significant events in their career.  Friends and family are invited to attend this ceremony. It lasts about 30 minutes, and is usually presided over by the Air Force Basic Training commanding officer.
A few words about military "coins:"
Military coins, whether commander’s coins, challenge coins, or unit and squadron coins, have become increasingly popular throughout the military.   Stories of where the custom originated vary widely. One of the most accepted traces it to World War I, when a wealthy lieutenant had bronze unit medallions struck for his squadron. As the story goes, a squadron pilot who was shot down and captured behind German lines ended up with nothing but that medallion to identify himself after his escape. Ultimately, the identifying coin ended up saving him from being executed by the French as a spy.   The squadron’s tradition of medallion or coin carrying continued, with “challenges” regularly made to ensure all members had theirs handy. A unit member who couldn’t quickly produce the medallion when challenged had to buy the challenger a drink. But if the medallion could be slapped down, the challenger had to buy.   Over the years, some units have continued this tradition. But more commonly, military coins have become a symbol of affiliation that’s used to boost morale, foster esprit de corps, and honor service." 
(Taken from HERE)

(The flight marching in)

(There he is... 5th one back again!)

(The 2nd one - It took all I could not to run out and latch onto him!)

(Receiving his coin!)

(A close up of the tray of coins!)

(I was like the first one out on that pad! We both got all teary-eyed the minute we saw each other)

(My Airman and Me!)

The rest of Thursday was amazing, simply getting to be with him, talk to him, smell him (LOL) whatever!  Later that evening he presented his Dad and my Mom with "Parent Pins," my Dad with a 331st TRS coin, and me with a spouse pin (as well as a USAF "Wife" fleece that he bought me as a belated birthday gift!).  I thought it was so sweet and thoughtful.  He had curfew at 2000, so sadly, I had to take him back to the dorm, but I knew I'd get to see him the next day!!

(Parent Pin)

(Spouse Pin)
On Friday, our day started around 5am and we walked over to the graduation parade grounds at about 6:45 since our TLF was literally right across the street.  Although we weren't the first people that arrived, we were pretty darn close!  We, again, got killer seats and only had to wait TWO HOURS this time :)

"Once the activities start, it is full-force ahead. An announcer will guide the services over the PA system so that guests know what is happening on the field at all times. The most amazing thing is the sense of patriotism felt by being there and being a part of the ceremony.  Flags of every state and of all the flights are carried in by trainees and the marching band follows them. Next, the flights march in. The airmen are in full dress blues, looking sharp and ready for their instructions. The announcer explains how they will march past the stands and in what order the flights are listed.  The flag procession is in the middle of the squadrons and as they pass each section, everyone stands in reverence to the flag and to the airmen. Once they've all been around, they return to their formation on the field.  Their instructor has them march forward closer to the crowds. At this point, the emotion is almost overwhelming as they raise their right hands to declare their oath to the military. When finished, they are released and once again must be ‘tapped’ to leave formation. Hugs and tears are a commonality among the families."
(Taken from HERE)

(His flight ready to start the ceremony)

(He's the 5th one from the back!!)

(Saluting the flag!)

(Marching past in Review!)

(Such an amazing weekend!)

(Everyone who attended Friday's events!  Both Dads left on Saturday morning!)

After the graduation, we headed over to his squadron to attend an "open house."  We got to see where he'd been living for the past 8.5 weeks and meet other guys from his flight that we hadn't already ran into.  Then the rest of the day was spent just being lazy.  For dinner, we all enjoyed an amazing meal at Pappadeaux in downtown San Antonio and it was freaking incredible!  Again, he had a 2000 curfew and I dropped him off eager for Saturday to start.

(The Airman had Mahi Mahi with lobster!  Best meal he's had in FOREVER!)

Awww, poor crab =(

(The whole fan-damily!)

Saturday we had plans of going to Seaworld, and believe me I'd have a thousand more pictures here if we did.  But, my love decided last minute that he'd rather enjoy some quality family time.  We played some board games, ate some amazing meals, and just WERE.  Sunday fared much the same way, but he had an 1800 curfew.  Dropping him off that last time knowing it'd be a while before I saw him again was harder than letting him go the first time.  But I know I WILL see him again soon, which is what keeps me going.

All-in-all this trip was absolutely amazing!  I discovered a part of myself that was so much stronger that I ever thought I could be.  I am so proud of my husband for what he's accomplished and I know that with him protecting our freedom and our country, I feel safer now than ever before.  Thank you to everyone who's supported both of us through this whole process and will continue to do so as we move further along. Knowing that you're behind us and there for us whenever we need makes this a little bit easier for me to cope and easier for him to leave when he must.  We're both so excited for our future and where this journey will take us, both physically and emotionally.  For those of you reading this who are currently going through this whole process, know that it DOES get easier.  Always stay optimistic and encouraging and know that your day will come soon!  This is definitely not the last you'll hear of our new life - I'm sure I'll update you with every step we take!  Thanks for reading =)

Much Love
The Cains!

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