During a push to gain military training instructors, then-Staff Sgt. Chi Yi found himself dawning the under-the-brim stare that welcomed him to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, years before.
The former vehicle operations specialist accepted the challenge of molding future Airmen, an ambition of his since joining the Air Force.
“I was nervous my first day of being an MTI,” said Yi, who has been a MTI for seven years. “But, once I understood the big reason as to what I’m really doing, it has become the biggest reward.”
Yi spent more than three years shaping newly enlisted Airmen at basic military training before transitioning to a new type of molding venture — influencing the cadets at Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base.
“Personally and professionally, this job has had a tremendous impact on my life,” said the husband and father of two sons. “To see those trainees and the cadets at Officer Training School, how they conduct themselves and how they march around 2 inches taller because of their pride, it culminates to the best feeling in the world.”
Online social media sites about OTS litter warnings of the high standards expected by Yi, both for those inbound to commission and for the laughter of those already commissioned. His attention to detail, along with cutting eyes scorching from underneath the campaign hat, remains easily recognizable to those who have been cordially welcomed into the military by him.
“Driving to work, especially during early morning (indoctrination) phase when we aren’t so friendly here, I anticipate what challenges I may face that day. I want to be prepared for how to handle those situations,” he said. “I constantly try to think of a better way to give the best training possible for these brand new cadets. Not every class is the same, and you have to adjust, thinking back to what I did yesterday and what I can do better today to help.”
Many Airmen think back to their initial encounters with MTIs and remember the chaos, yelling and the constant pushing to get more out of them. Yi passionately explained the reasoning behind an instructor’s, “elevated voice” being that they need to make sure everyone is standardized.
“Nobody here at OTS is out to become the cadet’s friend,” he said. “We are to be their trainers, mentors and also their guidance counselors, at times. It is that foundation to let them know we have business that we have to conduct, and we need to get to the business and there’s no time to beat around that. But, toward the end, the MTI’s will take a step back and become more of that mentor figure and try to make them a better leader.”
Yi’s passion for the development of officers stems beyond his dedication to his service and his job, as his eldest son is set to join his father in the Air Force next year.
“I want these leaders to lead, especially my son in the right direction,” Yi said, fighting back emotion. “I want them to lead by example, upholding our core values.”
The instructor has overheard jokes from those he has trained before.“I bet he makes his kids do drill,” he said, which he stressed couldn’t be further from the truth, despite how humorous he finds the thought.
“I physically leave the hat in my vehicle when I get home and will not wear it into my house,” he said. “I have to understand that there is work, and then there is family life. I am just a regular human being, a father and a husband, just like anybody else.”