Becoming an MTI: What it takes

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
After first transitioning from active duty to the Air Force Reserves, one former Marine turned transportation operator started to wonder if he had made a bad career move.  "[Bus driving] was boring to me," said Master Sgt. Carlos Recoder, a Reservist assigned to the 433rd Training Squadron at JBSA-Lackland. "Then I found out about this program -- the Reserve MTI program."

Recoder initially committed for three years as a military training instructor, but nine years later, he's still pushing flights.  "After my time was up, they were like, 'do you wanna go anywhere else?' and I was like, nah, I'm going to stick around. I love doing this job."

In addition to spending long hours with his basic training flight, Recoder travels with fellow MTI and 433rd TRS member, Tech. Sgt. Jesse Garcia, telling Reservists and Guardsmen alike about the opportunities affiliated with the profession.

Although not a requirement, Garcia recommends anyone interested to have at least seven years of Air Force experience before taking on the special duty. He said MTIs don't just teach rudimentary military skills; they mentor from their wide variety of life experiences too.

"It's almost like you're a big brother, big sister," added Recoder, "because they'll confide in you about a lot of stuff that's going on with them, and it's up to you how you're going to guide them and give them information."

The heavy emphasis on teaching was one of the main reasons Garcia signed up for his initial tour while still on active duty. Like Recoder, Garcia didn't stop after just one tour. He has since transitioned to the Reserves and plans to keep instructing until his retirement.

"I love to teach and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge," Garcia said about why he became an MTI. "I felt like I could bring that to the table to mentor these young recruits, not just in military stuff but in life in general."

Recoder explained that there are times on the job where the infamous hat needs to come off, and you have to sit down with someone and say, "hey, what's going on? Talk to me."

He recalled one such moment involving a young woman in his flight he noticed was struggling and not progressing. Recoder was on the verge of having to remove her.  However, after sitting her down, Recoder found out she'd been living out of her broken down car before coming to basic and was essentially homeless. She was plagued with worry about what she was going to do after graduation, and Recoder explained how the process worked and how those needs would be taken care of after graduation. 

"The next day it was like seeing a whole new person," Recoder recalled. "She wound up graduating, and a year later I got an email from her stating that she had made senior airman below the zone."

BTZ is an active-duty program that advances only the best and brightest young enlisted to the next rank earlier than usual.

Both Recoder and Garcia agree that although rewarding, being an MTI involves long hours and a healthy work ethic.  "You have to want to do this job, Recoder said. "If you have commitment to the job, you're going to be good at it, and it will show in your performance."

In recent years, Air Force leadership has sought to improve quality of life and alleviate the stress that comes with overwork. There are now two instructors per flight. MTIs are not allowed to work more than 10 hours without special approval, and instructors get a week break between flights.

"It's between you and your teammate," said Recoder. "You both sit down and look at the week ahead and see what needs to be done. One of you might work late on one day, and the other one works late on another day."

Garcia said the days of MTIs working 16-plus hours are gone and that having two instructors per flight has lessened that burden considerably. Still, proper planning plays a key role, he said.

"If you don't have good time management, even with two people, you can get behind," Garcia said.

Both men said MTI positions are currently available, but individuals are asked for at least a three-year commitment due to all the time and resources invested.

For Air National Guard members interested in the tour, Recoder said they'd have to first transition to the Reserves, which, he said, is relatively seamless.

Garcia said coming over from the Guard is similar to transitioning from active duty, which is what he did. But for Garcia, embarking on an MTI assignment is not simply a job. It goes much deeper.

"I guess at the end of the day, I didn't just want to develop good airmen. I wanted to develop good people too."