Symposium provides inspiration

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Although the ghost of basic training past haunts me every time I go to San Antonio, I left the 2012 Air Education and Training Command Symposium inspired.

Over the two-day event, Jan. 12-13, I had the opportunity to explore innovative products, listen to inspirational people, hear new ideas and see a couple of really cool cars.

The symposium is an annual event that offered attendees a multitude of venues to learn about the current and future environments of recruiting, training, and educating Airmen, along with operational and emerging topics. In his introduction, retired Lt. Gen. John Hopper Jr. said, "While the passage of time is constant, the pace of change is increasing."

I believe this was aligned with the symposium's theme, "Develop America's Airmen today...for tomorrow," because learning will never end. As technology develops, we have to keep pace with the changes or be left behind. At the same time, we must also be connected with our past.

The first day of the symposium ended with a prerelease screening of the film "Red Tails," a movie that provides a snapshot of the Tuskegee Airmen's story.

In the film, just before the historic fighter pilots board their aircraft to fly their most dangerous mission yet, they huddle together like a football team just before a game and chant a promise to protect their fellow Airmen and accomplish the mission at any cost.

After the lights came up, the star of the film, Nate Parker, stepped onto the stage and invited everyone, including several members of the original Tuskegee Airmen, to link arms with one another and repeat that same chant, "From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man -- we fight."

The sound of more than 1,000 Airmen snapped back, "We fight, we fight, we fight."

It was a sound that pierced through me and seared into my memory. Those words connected me to my history as an Airman, they connected me to everyone in our country who puts on a uniform to serve, and most importantly, it reconnected me to why we're in the Air Force.

At the deepest root, we are here to fight -- fight for the freedom of our country, the security of our people and the protection of our values. That is why events like the AETC Symposium are worth the money even in these tough economic times -- people need to understand why they do what they do.

"It's not just a good thing to do -- it's the right thing to do," said Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., AETC commander.

At the first keynote speaker luncheon of the symposium, Gen. Raymond Johns, Air Mobility Command commander, also asked why we do what we do. The answer he provided was, "We answer the call of others so they can prevail."

These words resonated through the silent room of nearly 3,500 attendees.

Johns' speech focused on how the people of AETC transform civilians into Airmen and instill the core values necessary to answer those calls.

"If you're not investing in the future, you're not growing ... the runway behind us is irrelevant," Rice said.