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Command chief reconnects with BMT instructor

  • Published
  • By Candy Knight
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. — It’s been said this is a small Air Force, and you’ll never know when or where paths may cross again. While it is more likely to bump into a former tech school classmate or previous squadron coworker, it is rare to cross paths with your basic military training instructor, let alone work in the same unit with them.  

Imagine Chief Master Sgt. Cynthia Villa’s surprise when, twenty-five years after graduating basic military training, she learned she would be working in the same unit alongside her basic military training instructor — Chief Master Sgt. Steve Simpson.

“I think it is awesome,” Villa, the 4th Air Force command chief, said. “I started off on active duty, here I am a reservist newly assigned to Fourth Air Force and I have the opportunity to serve with my former MTI.”

Although Simpson, currently 4th Air Force’s Civil Engineer Manager, has worked with several former training instructors, Villa is the only former trainee he has worked alongside in the same unit. He added, however, he doesn’t remember her specifically from their time at basic training. 

“It is a good thing when I say I do not remember her specifically,” Simpson said. “The only trainees that I remembered individually over the years were a couple of problem children or one Airman in particular who shaved his eyebrows off on the first night of basic training.”

Villa said that aside from a bout of homesickness, BMT was a breeze compared to her previous police explorer program training at a local police academy. Nevertheless, she said Simpson was the hardest BMT instructor.

“He had two counterparts, Tech. Sgt. Fuentes and Staff Sgt. Astudillo, but he was the toughest,” she said.  “During that time you are really too intimidated to say much so I stayed away from conversation and just tried not to bring attention to myself.”  

Villa, who graduated BMT in October 1993, added that Simpson and the other MTIs had great influence and a tremendous impact in preparing her and her fellow flight mates for Air Force life.

“Their impact could have been negative but I’m thankful their impact was nothing but goodness,” she said. 

For Simpson, having a direct impact on successfully transitioning civilians into military life was both a tremendous opportunity and also a huge responsibility.

“It was extremely difficult at first with very long hours and some very demanding and exacting standards to meet in order to be certified as an instructor,” he said. “Yet, to see (your trainees) graduate and become productive members of our Air Force was a reward all its own. Years later, I did have a major, who was a fighter pilot, tap me on the shoulder in the dining facility in Iraq and thank me for training him right in BMT.”

Memories like this one remind Simpson of one reason he decided to become an MTI. Being a good role model for younger Airmen was another, as he himself had good role models during his BMT.  

“(During basic training) I looked up to both of my instructors, Technical Sgt. Begin and Staff Sgt. Astudillo - as outstanding role models and aspired to one day reach a level of professionalism that I witnessed from them,” he said. “Later on while serving at the 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron, I worked with a former instructor that encouraged me to apply and sold me on the program. I submitted a package in late 1990 and through various interviews and a selection board, I was chosen as one of three reservists selected for an active guard reserve tour as an MTI.”

In their brief time working together at 4th Air Force, Villa has shared with Simpson how she looks to him as a peer, a teammate, and for mentorship.  

“Regardless of how high of rank we’ve reached, we don’t know everything, and it’s imperative to understand it’s the people we serve with that shape our careers and help us be competitive for these senior leadership roles,” she said. “You don’t get to these positions on your own; it’s all about the people.”  

Simpson added he was happy for his former trainee’s achievements. 

“I am very proud to see her success, as well as the other Airmen that I trained and have encountered in my travels,” Simpson said. “Chief Villa’s success is all on her, and her hard work and efforts. However, it is nice to know that I played a small part mentoring her at one critical point in her career.”

While he doesn’t know how many of his former trainees are still serving, Simpson said if he had an audience with them, he would thank them for sticking it out this long and for the sacrifices they have endured.

“I would encourage them to continue embracing change because the Air Force will always keep moving forward,” he said. “Those who embrace change will continue to succeed and be value added to the Air Force. Take care of your people both up and down the chain of command, because you may work for them again one day and it’s the right thing to do.”