For the airmans run, many suggested using the valley hi gate onto lackland. My husbands pass has the wrong first name on it, a clerical error, so we chose to use Luke gate, just in case. The visitor center is located there, it is where to go if you do not have a guest pass, or if there is a problem with your guest pass.
We could have used any gate. The name wasn't a problem at all, and it is easy to get to the reception center from any gate.
We got there early - just after 6am, and got one of the last parking spots in the lot in front of the BMT reception center. There was a long line waiting outside the door for the 7am orientation. We had a nice time chatting with the family behind us.
At the BMT, get a map. We did not, and we regretted it. The maps I had from online did not show us where the restaurants and museums are located.
At orientation, write down where you are not allowed to be. You think you will remember, but you won't. :-). We didn't have a problem, but we did spend the whole day wondering if we were traveling where we were not allowed to be, since we could not remember. The biggie is to not leave base, that was easy.
They seated us for orientation around 6:30. First a representative from the production company (photos) spoke, followed by a representative from sea world. Airmen & their spouse, or airmen & their mom & dad, can attend sea world free of charge this weekend.
There was a short video on the history of the air force, followed by a slide show with rules and guidelines.
From there we went out the side doors and lined up for the airmans run. You cannot stand on the bleachers for the airmans run. They had to announce that over, and over, and over again. Once the run starts, you may not cross the road. That was another concept parents had trouble with. Please follow the rules. You are not special when you are here, and acting as if the rules do not apply to you only makes it harder for the trainees assisting with graduation. We watched one trainee get hollered at by a TI because parents at graduation were pushing past him to get into an area they were not supposed to walk into. Like anywhere on earth, we met some of the nicest, kindness people - and also some of the most rude and obnoxious people as well.
About 5 minutes before the run, it started raining. Then it poured. Even with umbrellas, we were soaked clear through. Homemade signs ran, many didn't have umbrellas along... and we all stood together anyway, and watched our trainees run in it. The trainees run from the bridge past you, then they turn and pass a second time, so it does not matter too much what side of the road you are on. Taller trainees are in the front.
A Note - many families will order banners and signs professionally printed, and have t-shirts made up.. those are great, but they are for you, not for your airman. Especially if it is raining. They will not really see them when running past, and there is NO room for them in the stands at the ceremonies.. so they are pretty much for you to pose with and get your photo taken. They did make extra umbrellas on this day, when it started raining hard..
After they passed a second time, we went into the BMT reception center, at the same time that families were arriving for the 9am orientation. Mass chaos. Had it not been raining so hard, most would not have went back inside, and this would have been avoided. There were people jammed everywhere, trying to go in several directions, but few actually moving. One woman had a panic attack and had to be escorted out. After a few minutes of this, they started announcing that some squadrons families should go upstairs, and some downstairs, that busses would be arriving for us - they apparently planned to move the ceremony indoors. (Luke later said it would not have been indoors, but it would have been under cover)
A little while later they announced that the rain had stopped and the ceremony would be outdoors. We are from PA, so this kind of chaos over a little rain caught us off guard. We would never have a big event like this without a clear rain plan, but Luke said it only rained 3 times in the 9 weeks he was here. Which explains why their river walk river is smaller than many of our creeks. :-)
On our way out, we stopped by the production studio & checked to see if our son had picked up and paid for his photos. He had. We ordered a DVD of graduation there - $49.
Note: The production studio can be missed easily. If you enter the reception center through the front door, turn left, go through the snack bar area, and there will be a tiny room off to your right.
We went to our car to try to dry off a bit. I wish we had thought to bring a change of clothes. We sat in our car until 10am - a big mistake. The bleachers were PACKED by 10am.
You cannot stand between the bleachers for the ceremony
There is standing room only behind the cement barriers
You cannot walk on the cement in front of the bleachers.
You cannot walk in front of the bleachers. Walk behind them to get where you want to be.
We did find two seats, which a kind gentleman helped pull me up into. There are no steps, no walkway, so once the bleachers fill in, it is very hard to get to the top - or to any place in the middle. Ideally everyone would move to the center, but I don't think that ever happens. Remember that most of us stood in the downpour an hour earlier... so we are all soaked. Crammed together. You can't even lift your camera without jostling others. The man in front of me was taking photos with a huge tablet. Please do not do that. It blocked everyone's view - the equivalent of holding a piece of construction paper in front of everyone trying to see.
The retreat was cancelled due to the weather. It had stopped raining long before... But no retreat meant we got to get to our son, and tap him out, sooner. This sounded like a much more formal event when we read about it, but it was really just get to your son and hug him, then he can leave with you. Even though our son knew we were coming, he had not spoken to us for a week, and did not know we had arrived. So even though he knew his mom would have crawled on her hands and knees, from PA, on broken glass, to be here, he was still nervous that something had happened and we were not in the stands. He did not see us during the airmans run (I think they have a better chance of spotting their families if it is not pouring down rain during the run) and could not possibly spot us in the stands. There were VERY few airmen that did not have family in attendance.
I had worried that I wouldn't recognize my own child, as were many others waiting with us. For us, it was needless worry - we picked him out quickly. They do all look very much alike!
one of the first things we did was go back to our vehicle and skype home so his siblings could see him
I loved seeing his name on his uniform.
We had read that he would be exhausted, starved, and have things he needed to do... none of that was true for us. His stripes were all already on his uniform. The shoes they wear now do not need shined. He was not overly hungry, nor overly tired.
And he knew nothing about the base. We hadn't done any research on the base, we had no ideas about where to go or what to do. We did know about Godfathers pizza, and like just about everyone else, we went there for lunch. It was a loooooonnnnggggg line, but it didn't matter, since all we wanted to do was see him & listen to him. The pizza was good - similar to pizza hut deep dish. It was nice to just sit and eat with him.
The Parade Field was a good place to have him pose for some photos. This was the only day we saw him in his ABU's, the rest of the week-end he was in dress blues.
From there he wanted to show us the parade field, and where to sit for graduation, so we walked around there. His flight had helped with a lot of the graduations, so Luke was very familiar with where we should sit, and that we should get there early.
We went to the airmans museum, which was nice, then to the BX to look around - he was curious what it was like. We skyped home (from my phone - they do not get their phones back until Monday) so he could see and talk with his siblingsThen we went to the minimall he was familiar with, and ate in the food court, sitting there and talking more.
There is a huge flag in the airmans museum that makes a great backdrop for a photo!
Drop off is very organized. There was a sign, and a coned off area. Only the airman may exit the car there. You pull up, he gets out, you pull forward - say your goodbyes before you get there.
Airmen need to be back at 8pm, drop them off at 7:30, so they have time to sign in and be in their dorm at 8pm. 7:45 probably would have been early enough on Thursday.