JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
Master Sgt. Jason Wagner a nine-year Reserve Basic Military Training Instructor with the 340th Flying Training Group’s 433rd Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, has earned the Master Military Training Instructor “Blue Rope,” which adorns the iconic campaign hat.
The MTI Blue Rope is reserved for the top 10 percent of the Military Instructor Training Corps. Affixed to the MTI’s campaign hat, the rope singles him\her out as a mentor within BMT. Blue Rope MTIs earn the distinction through an extremely competitive process, and represent the very best that Basic Military Training has to offer.
“Wagner has mentored more than 100,000 basic trainees and hundreds of instructors, and built programs that will impact the direction of basic training for years to come,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ricardo Chavez, 433rd TRS Operations Flight Chief. “He consistently strives for excellence in everything he does.”
Just prior to earning his blue rope, Wagner completed requirements for the Air Education and Training Command Master Instructor Badge, signaling that he is among the top 8 percent of all AETC instructors.
“He has a sincere desire to help produce the exceptional Airmen who will carry on the Air Force legacy,” Chavez said.
Wagner, a Santa Cruz, California native, brought a variety of interests and experiences to his military career. In high school, he was a sports medicine technician. As an Airman, he has been a police officer, volunteer firefighter and an emergency medicine technician.
“In our family, being of service to others - and military service - is a big deal,” said Wagner. “Both my parents were firefighters, my stepdad was in the Air Force and my grandfather served during the Korean conflict.”
“I received my orders to basic training the Friday before 9/11. I took my orders to school to show them off to my friends - I was the happiest kid in the world. The next morning, our world changed and my "why" changed. Before, it might have simply been following my passion to continue my family’s legacy of military service, but it quickly changed to really wanting to take care of those who couldn't take care of themselves.”
When his initial six-year enlistment was up, he left active duty to pursue greater work/family balance, and accepted a position as a high school criminal justice teacher in Yuma, Arizona. However, the thought of leaving the military was the scariest feeling ever and he didn’t want to just walk away. Instead, he decided to continue to serve as a member of the Reserve component.
“I left active duty knowing that I was going to be a reserve MTI,” said Wagner. “When I was a staff sergeant I asked my chief at the time how to become a chief. He told me that I needed to be great at my job and explore every opportunity to broaden my skill set. When the time came to choose a new job, I was drawn to the MTI field because I felt it was the best match for me and for the Air Force. I felt I could take all the things my mentors had taught me and pass them on to help mold the Airmen of tomorrow.”
Although he left active duty to be closer to family, Wagner felt he still had more to give to his country. Joining the Reserves enabled him to satisfy both desires: continue his military career and remain close to family. Decision made, he became a active guard reserve (or AGR) MTI in 2010.
The 433rd Training Squadron, in an example of cross-component total force integration, has supported BMT at JBSA-Lackland since 1983. Reserve MTIs and their active duty mission partners operate side by side, cohesively and seamlessly as one team to develop the exceptional next generation of Airmen. The squadron also provides MTI support to Reserve Officer Training Corps and Officer Training School units, when requested.
“The nature of this job is so much more than I ever gave it credit for,” he said. “It's not just yelling at young Airmen or marching or folding clothes. I tell all of our new people that being an MTI is everything and nothing you ever thought it would be at exactly the same time. Success as an MTI starts with your attitude. You must be open to new ideas and new processes and have a profound desire to make a difference.”
Wagner’s drive to earn the blue rope started out with some trepidation. Squadron leaders have described him as an Airman of quiet excellence -- one who never lets his achievements go to his head. Wagner said for many years he didn't feel like he could hold the title "best of the best." He credits advice from his chief with giving him ‘the proverbial kick in the pants’ to see that he could and should go after that blue rope.
“Earning the rope is more than just an accolade or a goal,” said Wagner. “It’s a frame of mind that says, ‘I am going to be a subject matter expert in all facets of BMT.’ That shouldn't come from a place of arrogance but instead from a desire to be excellent in your craft.”
Wagner said the Air Force has given him an outstanding life and though serving as an MTI may have not been his first choice, he said it was the best he’s ever made.
“I challenge fellow airmen who want to help weave the core fabric that supports the Air Force to consider becoming a reserve MTI,” said Wagner. “I am daily surrounded by some of the most remarkable people this country has to offer and there isn't a place I'd rather be.”