SAN ANTONIO, Texas--Every year, the U.S. Air Force graduates about 35,000 new airmen. Each and every one of them comes to Lackland Air Force Base here, where they spend eight weeks in intensive basic training.
It all begins each week when between 400 and 700 new trainees are brought to Lackland, where they must first get all their gear, including their boots and caps. If they survive the training, they get their airman's coin and join what they are told over and over again is "the best air force the world has ever known."
CNET Road Trip 2014 visited Lackland to see the beginning and ending of the airmen's eight-week journey.
New trainees are broken up into squadrons, and then into groups, known as "flights." Here, a flight of fresh trainees waits outside to be brought in, have their heads shaved, and get all their new gear.
A flight lines up outside the building where they will get their heads shaved and be given their gear. Though they've barely begun their training, they're already required to stand at attention, be silent, and look straight ahead.
Each and every piece of gear the trainees are given has an embedded RFID tag. When they have suited up and have everything else in their duffel or in their hands, they walk through this scanner, which is meant to determine if they have everything they need.
These rules are posted on the wall for trainees to read and follow as they wait for processing. It's clear, from the last rule in the list, that this sign has been posted since a sexual harassment/assault scandal rocked the Air Force a few years ago. Many of the new procedures in place at Lackland have been instituted in response to the scandal, in which dozens of female trainees said they were sexually assaulted by instructors.
Trainees do a wide range of drills during their time at Lackland Air Force Base, including learning how to work from a firing position like this one. Unfortunately, no live training was going on when CNET Road Trip visited.
Trainees spend several hours every day in classrooms, learning the academic portion of their Air Force education. Classrooms are filled with non-networked computers. They are not allowed normal outside contact during their eight weeks of training, though they are allowed a few short phone calls to friends or family. They may not access any kind of social media during the training period.
The trainees go through regular physical exercise, including running around a large track near their barracks. Based on the speed of previous runs, they are categorized into groups, each of which has a specific color. The slowest runners use the red lane, while the fastest use the blue lane. This is meant to apply peer pressure to get better as they proceed through training.
After eight weeks, the trainees graduate. But a day before the formal graduation ceremony, they take part in what is known as the "airman's run," where each of the flights dresses in special shirts and runs over this bridge and through a gantlet of their friends and family members.
The day before they officially graduate, the new airmen go through what is known as the Coin Ceremony, where they are given the ceremonial coin that signifies their entrance into the Air Force. Here, a flight arrives at the ceremony as hundreds of friends and family, as well as the airmen's instructors look on.