JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jarmeea Otten, a military training instructor at Joint Base San Antonio received a call. It was only the third day of Basic Military Training and one of her trainee’s fiancé had just died in a car crash.
Otten pulled the young woman aside and told her, “Grab your items, we need to go to the (charge of quarters) tunnel.”
They began to head over. Otten recalls that, that walk to the CQ tunnel as one of the longest walks of her life. Otten looked over; the trainee’s face was full of concern.
“You’re not in trouble,” Otten assured her. She wished she could share more information but could not.
When they finally reached the CQ tunnel, Otten says it felt like a movie. The chaplain was standing beside the first sergeant and it was then that they shared the unfortunate news.
“When she walked out of their office, the devastation was clear on her face,” said Otten. “As an MTI, you see trainees cry all the time and so you tend to grow insensitive to tears. However, when I saw her face after hearing the news, it prompted uninvited feelings even I couldn’t mask.”
Otten knew from this moment that being an MTI would be one of the greatest challenges of her military career.
“Being an MTI is more than just yelling and enforcing rules, sometimes it’s just being
human- nothing more, nothing less,” said Otten.
This was one of countless moments that quickly opened Otten’s eyes to the importance of the different roles and responsibility of raising Airmen who value integrity, service and excellence.
“That trainee has no idea how much she inspired me to keep going when life deals me an unfair hand,” said Otten. “She returned to training shortly after going home and she ended up graduating two weeks after her originally scheduled graduation.”
Otten served as an MTI for approximately three and a half years. Even though she has since put her campaign hat away, Otten brings her leadership style and lessons learned from Joint Base San Antonio to the 1st Maintenance Group as a unit training manager.
“I originally didn’t want to be an MTI. My leadership put my name up and I genuinely thought I wouldn’t get the position, but I got picked up. I didn’t believe I was built to be an MTI,” said Otten.
At first the physical and mental challenge of being an MTI stressed Otten, but with the help of her trainees she gained a new perspective as to what it means to be a leader.
“My favorite part of being an MTI was the challenge. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve done,” said Otten. “There’s almost no such thing as a holiday when you’re an MTI. You must be versatile, flexible and prepared to take on challenges that most people in the Air Force will never experience, but you also get to witness tremendous growth in the people that are becoming the Air Force’s future.”
“I hated running. It’s something I've struggled with my entire Air Force career,” Otten said, “My first flight of trainees struggled with running too. If I was going to lead these Airmen, I had to raise my own standard for myself. ‘I can’t’ was not an option.”
Otten started interval training and pushing herself physically. Whenever her flight was required to run, she would run alongside them. Otten stated, she was quick to let her trainees know that she wasn’t perfect. She found a way to relate to her flight and through that, built trust among her trainees.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Chloe Shanes, 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs public affairs specialist, is one of Otten’s former trainees. Otten’s impact on Shanes still affects her as an Airman today.
“Looking back on my time at BMT, Master Sgt. Otten was an absolute inspiration,” said Shanes. “Some MTIs give off the impression that they enjoy making trainees’ lives miserable, however, she led us and in turn taught us how to be good followers and strong leaders. Master Sgt. Otten kept it as transparent and as real with us as possible and was always there to guide us in the right direction.”
Shanes recalls how during her sixth week of training she was struggling during the run test, but Otten was on the track running right beside her.
Shanes said to Otten, “My lungs are on fire.”
Otten replied, “You’re not done until you stop breathing. Keep going Shanes.”
According to Shanes, those words still inspire her today.
“When times get tough or if there are times when I’m feeling discouraged in my career, I think about that instance,” said Shanes. “She might not think that what she said would have such a big impact, but it has had a huge impact on my career. I think about her and everything she has done for me as an Airman and I’m grateful. I tell myself when times get challenging that ‘I’m not done, until I’m dead,’ and that would make Master Sgt. Otten, my family and myself proud.”
Otten is excited to be working at the 1st Fighter Wing and has fully immersed herself into her new job as unit training manager. Just as she initially had to adjust to be an MTI, Otten is adjusting to her new role.
“Transitioning has not always been easy, some people at first tend to shy away when they learn that I was a former MTI,” said Otten. “I’ve put the hat away, but I’ve taken with me the knowledge of the definitive line between supervision and management. I’m embracing learning all aspects of my job.”
Otten explains her experience as an MTI caused her to grow tremendously. She brings with her a raised expectation for herself and others and strives to be a transformational leader.
“Every morning, when I come into work, I try my best to do my rounds and greet all my Airmen,” said Otten. “I want my Airmen to know their value and to have a broader understanding that the work they are doing matters. There is more to what they see and they should take pride in their uniform.”