JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas --
Perhaps one of the most indelible memories of military service is the time spent at Basic Military Training, or BMT. For the eager young men and women aspiring to one day don the fabric of our nation, making it through BMT, under the watchful eye of the Military Training Instructor, is the price of admission. For most, BMT is a once in a lifetime experience. But for MSgt James MacKay, once wasn’t nearly enough and so he went back to BMT – this time as a Military Training Instructor with the 433rd Training Squadron – armed with a lifetime of military and civilian experiences he could share with the newest members of the Air Force.
“I wanted to be on the front line, molding the exceptional warrior Airmen the Air Force will need to continue to face the challenges of the future,” said MacKay.
MacKay served in a diverse array of careers prior to becoming an MTI. His Air Force career began in 1983 when he joined the Michigan Air National Guard as a Munitions Systems Specialist. Transferring to active duty in 1985, MacKay retrained into Air Traffic Control. In 1994, as part of a force-wide personnel drawdown, he separated from active duty. For the next 15 years MacKay, now a civilian, worked in the public safety sales market. But an ever-present longing to be back in uniform led him to rejoin the Air National Guard in 2009 – this time in Texas - as a Fire Protection Specialist. He graduated from the Louis Garland Fire Academy in 2010 at the age of 47. MacKay earned the distinction of honor graduate; one of the oldest honor graduates from the course at that time. In 2014 MacKay was made aware of the opportunity to serve as an MTI with the 433rd and jumped at it.
“I wanted to give back to the Air Force because it has done so much for me," he said. “I’ve always had an outgoing personality - always up for a challenge. I love to teach and mentor. As an MTI, I knew I would be able to accomplish both. I wanted to contribute to the transformation of young men and women into Warrior Airmen of character.”
Though he was a traditional reservist, MacKay found multiple opportunities to go on extended orders to augment the active duty MTI corps. During his 36-month tour, he led 13 flights and interacted with thousands of trainees. But whether serving one weekend per month or being on longer orders – a sense of pride and accomplishment constantly permeated the 433rd.
“At the end of each drill weekend we returned home to our civilian world, satisfied in the knowledge that we’d contributed to our nation’s continued freedom,” he said.
When friends asked him if he were ready for life as an MTI - and emphasized the demanding schedule - MacKay confirmed his commitment. While many still have a “Full Metal Jacket” perception of MTIs, MacKay is quick to point out that there is so much more to the men and women who don the campaign hat.
MTIs come from all walks of life, all Air Force specialties, with a shared commitment to produce the absolute best wingmen, leaders and warriors. On the active duty side, only the top performers in each career field are deliberately vectored to MTI duty. For the Reserve MTI, the vetting and selection process is equally rigorous. The result is an MTI corps comprised of the most dedicated, professional and focused NCOs the Air Force has to offer.
“I was drawn to being an MTI because I felt the job would provide a palpable experience that is not common to many other professions,” he said. “I knew I had a chance to make a difference. There is nothing like the feeling that you get when you see your Airmen graduate and know that their success is a representation of all the hard work and dedication that we achieved as a team.”
He attributes his career successes to a family tradition of commitment to military service and hard work. His oldest brother was in the Air Force during Vietnam and his oldest daughter Amanda, a former Air Force Korean Linguist, is currently an MTI with the 433rd TRS. MacKay and Amanda actually served together as MTIs and were the first father-daughter MTI team in Air Force history. He said the opportunities for personal and professional growth that could be realized by serving as an MTI also played a big part in his decision to take the job.
“Being an MTI has had a positive impact on nearly every aspect of my life,” he said. “Earning my Community College of the Air Force degree in Education and Training Management has resonated with my civilian employer who now looks to take advantage of that training. This means new opportunities for me in my civilian job. It has given me a new level of confidence that has allowed me to seek new challenges and because of that, I ran for and was elected to my local school board.”
He said the constant exposure to and emphasis placed on the Air Force core values, along with bearing and discipline, dress and appearance, personal accountability and leadership, strengthens Airmen who serve as MTIs. MTIs share constant feedback with each other to help fellow instructors hone their craft, and support mechanisms are second to none, in his experience.
“Being a Reservist MTI is the best-kept secret in AFRC. It is, without question, the most rewarding period of my 20-plus years of military service,” said MacKay. “Serving as an MTI provides invaluable experience that will prepare you for future assignments as a senior non-commissioned officer or first sergeant. Being an MTI allows you to change lives – one of those being your own.”