Face of Defense: Student Flight Leader Affects Hundreds of New Airmen

At the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th Wing here, the work of building airmen starts before basic military training, in student flight.

Student flight is where newly enlisted recruits spend drill weekends learning military customs and courtesies, rank structure, and other pertinent information to set them up for success at basic training. The program is led by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Austin, the force development superintendent for the 194th Wing and the student flight superintendent assigned to the 194th Force Support Squadron. After the recruiter, Austin is often a new enlistee’s first impression of the Air National Guard.

“To have the opportunity to shape and mold and mentor every new airman coming into the Wing — that is as powerful as it gets, so there is a lot of pride in that,” Austin said.

Austin has welcomed every new recruit to the wing for the past seven years. He estimates that he has guided 500 airmen through student flight during that time.

Student flight is the best program the Air National Guard has to offer, Austin said. It is also the highlight of his career, he added.

“When you can go home at night and realize the impact you have on the state, on the country, on the Air Force, I mean this wholeheartedly, it is the best job you could ask for in the Air Force,” Austin said.

Prepared Airmen

Student flight alumni have been known to receive honors in training. This is due to recruits being better prepared, said retired 194th Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Brian Waggoner. The airmen are able to do so well because of the example set by Austin in the program, Waggoner added.

It doesn’t take long to see that Austin exemplifies professionalism, Waggoner said. “I straighten myself before I go into his office,” he said. “He deserves the best leaders that we can be. I don’t want to let him down.”

Austin emphasizes the importance of setting an example. “If you don’t have those standards yourself, how do you pass them along and teach them to anybody else?” asked Austin.

Austin builds trust with new recruits in the program by taking a genuine interest in finding out who they are, said Airman 1st Class Tyree Overall, a packer with the 194th Logistics Readiness Squadron Traffic Management Office. Austin knows how to push people and challenge them to be better, Overall said.

“He commands a presence,” Overall said. “Sgt. Austin just has something about him.”

It’s an impression that sticks with 194th Wing airmen as they move forward in their careers, Waggoner said. “It’s interesting now when you see people pass him in the hallway or see him in the chow hall. That is still the guy they want to impress, they want him to see that they are still sharp,” he said.