Torrential rain and abnormally cold Texas temperatures did not dampen the resolve of the hundreds of people who came to get a first glimpse of their loved ones in more than two months. Families and friends from all over the United States, including several families from Maine, lined a well-worn road in the heart of Lackland Air Force Base last Thursday morning.

Their soon-to-be airmen could be heard from a distance, chanting a well-rehearsed cadence as they began their ceremonial 1.5-mile run in a torrential downpour. As they jogged past in perfect formation, in groups of about 50 (or a “flight”), it was difficult to tell one from another. The airmen were dressed almost identically and wore uniform hairstyles — the men’s heads were neatly shaved, and the women wore their hair in a bun. Each flight did have a unique T-shirt, however, which was the only distinguishing characteristic the spectators could use to help identify their loved ones.

The crowd showed their support in a variety of ways. Many wore shirts with their soon-to-be airman’s flight, name, photo or special message. Some held posters and photos of assorted sizes with personal messages. Others had ordered the same shirt as their airman’s flight.

The rain disguised tears of pride and joy flowing down many spectators’ cheeks as they cheered for the airmen jogging past.

A quick briefing followed for the spectators while the airmen changed into their uniforms. As the rain ended, a bitter, cold wind chilled spectators in the stands surrounding a large, square tarmac, which was patrolled by a boisterous training instructor who shooed away anybody trying to cut across it. She kept the anxious crowd entertained until the airmen marched in, many receiving special awards.

A traditional coin ceremony followed, where each airman was given a coin with an attached legend. The coin is symbolic of the moment that the airman is no longer considered a “trainee.”

At the end of the ceremony, people poured out of the bleachers like a stampede as they searched for their loved ones. The airmen, however, stood perfectly still until they were tapped on the shoulder by a spectator or a fellow flight member. While the reserved airmen obediently followed the regulation which permits only a quick hug or kiss at the end of the ceremony, their loved ones did not use the same restraint.

The remainder of the day was spent touring the facility, which serves almost 8,000 people who live on the base. Amenities include malls, recreation facilities and even a movie theater.

Friday’s graduation ceremony was an impressive display of the nearly 700 new airmen as they marched on the giant parade grounds, surrounded by vintage and modern airplanes. More than 5,000 people packed the bleachers on a sunny, but blustery morning. Almost every airman was allowed to leave the base for the day after the ceremony and then again on Saturday. A few members of the best-ranking flights were allowed an extra day on Sunday.

Although some remained at Lackland for technical school or other training, most shipped out Monday to other bases.

Next week, the process repeats, as it does 50 weeks of the year. More than 35,000 airmen will graduate from the Air Force’s only BMT facility, located in San Antonio, Texas, — and another group of young men and women will begin their transformation into becoming members of the “greatest air force in the world.”

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