The Sounds of Freedom: USAF and USACE Partnership Builds Innovative Airman Training Complex

Follow the white buses marked U.S. Air Force as they pick up new recruits from San Antonio International Airport and transport them to a tucked away location on Joint Base San Antonio. This hidden gem sits on almost four thousand acres of land designated for training the newest enlistees of the Air Force for the next eight and a half weeks. Over the course of their basic military training, you can hear groups of individuals become one voice as they chant the melodic sounds of freedom — “Everywhere I go-o, there’s an MTI* there, hut, two, three, four,” to signify unity and the wingman concept.

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Before the first buses arrive carrying trainees from all walks of life and regions of the U.S., the Air Force readies itself by partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District, to award two contracts to build Airman Training Centers 5 and 6, and Dining Classroom Facility 3. These facilities make up an ongoing effort to build a training complex that mirrors ATC 1 – 4, and DCF 1 and 2, while tackling training challenges, such as the constant rise of extreme temperatures that extend beyond the traditional summer season.

As a resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Daniel Olivas has coordinated many construction projects, but the Airman Training Centers show the strength and innovation of USACE. Olivas goes over the blueprints for the dining facility, another project underway in conjunction with ATC #6. USACE PHOTO BY BRITTANY SCRUGGS

As Daniel Olivas, the USACE ATC resident engineer, Fort Worth District, led a group through the construction site, he pointed out the creative design elements unique to this project. “Innovation remains at the forefront during this process, Olivas said. He continued, “San Antonio experiences extreme heat, so these dormitories enveloped with pre-cast concrete panels were constructed to create an atrium with a tunnel-like atmosphere that creates a breeze and continuously cools the inner portion of the Airman Training Center.”

Once the buses arrive, basic training officially begins, and trainees become well acquainted with their new home — a 280k square foot, state-of-the-art, four-story building reinforced with concrete structures and standing seam metal roofs. With a few short marching commands and paces, recruits are within reach of supporting facilities such as a weapons cleaning pavilion, drill pad, and running track.

An aerial view of Airman Training Center #6. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPAWGLASS CONTRACTORS, INC.

“Every design and build choice have put a keen emphasis on safety, ingenuity, and increased functionality,” said Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell, USACE project engineer, Fort Worth District. She continued, “As an Air Force veteran, I have a unique viewpoint into understanding the hardships the trainees may face and I take pride in making sure their training environment is the least of their worries.”

Though trainees go through rigorous drills, physical assessments, and knowledge-based assessments, the day would not be complete without receiving three balanced meals to help their body remain in optimal shape to sustain the day’s mission. With that, only the sounds of uniformed chants echoing between the ATCs stand between trainees and their meal on the fly, in the full-service kitchen that makes up the DCF. It is the third of its kind to provide dining on the first floor and eight auditorium-style classrooms on the second and third floors.

As a resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Daniel Olivas has coordinated many construction projects, but the Airman Training Centers show the strength and innovation of USACE. The current dormitories are enveloped with pre-cast concrete panels and were constructed to create an atrium with a tunnel-like atmosphere that creates a breeze and continuously cools the inner portion of the Airman Training Center. USACE PHOTO BY BRITTANY SCRUGGS

“The dining facility is approximately 162k square feet and can accommodate upwards of 2,000 Airmen,” Daniel explained. “The sleek design of the new facility allows the Air Force to feed eight trainees per minute. That’s less than half of what was possible in the previous dining facilities.”

After eight and a half weeks of regimented training to turn civilians into highly skilled Airmen, graduation has arrived. “Left, right, left,” becomes the sound of timing and proficiency. A parade field that once held the sounds of inexperience, unsurety, and individuality, is now filled with the sounds of cheers, cries, laughter, confidence, unity, and pride, as the newly sworn-in Airmen become official symbols of readiness, airmanship, and heritage.

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As the sounds of graduation fade, you can hear new sounds in the distance. Those are the chants of trainees aspiring toward their graduation day. With each chant and sound, it represents what Americans hold dear – freedom. Freedom of choice woven into the very fabric of what our Nation stands for. So, as the same white buses marked U.S. Air Force, which picked up civilians, now picks up the future of our freedom; Airmen– ready to embark on their legacy of valor.

*Writer’s Note: An MTI is an Air Force Military Training Instructor during the basic training process. Each group of trainees is assigned two MTIs that will remain with them during their eight-week basic training. Though they are assigned MTIs, there are always other MTIs near to reinforce safety and training and keep a watchful eye.

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