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Airman makes 118th history: Named Top BMT Honor Graduate

Airman 1st Class Ronald Straker, center, an Airman with the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, poses with his recruiter and leadership at basic military training graduation Oct. 25, 2019 at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

Airman 1st Class Ronald Straker, center, an Airman with the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, poses with his recruiter and leadership at basic military training graduation Oct. 25, 2019 at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Straker finished as the top graduate at basic military training, beating out over 750 trainees for the honor. (U.S. Air National Guard courtesy photo provided by Master Sgt. Joseph Austin)

Nashville, Tenn. --

Airman 1st Class Ronald Straker made 118th Wing history October 2019 when he beat out over 760 trainees in basic military training to not only graduate with honors, but to be recognized as the top basic military training honor graduate.

Entering Air Force basic military training in August, Straker already had his sights set on graduating with honors.

“There are some people who go into basic and just float by,” he said. “I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be excellent, which is one of our core values. I wanted to be excellent in everything that I did there, so I tried to outperform everyone I came across.”

To be recognized as an honor graduate in basic military training, trainees are evaluated in a number of areas: physical fitness, living area inspections, leadership points, and the end of course exam. Typically, 10 percent of basic military training trainees graduate as honor graduates. So it was no small feat to graduate number one among this elite group.

“I’m very honored to graduate at the top of my class. But that’s only the beginning,” said Straker. “Setting the bar high has definitely caused me to think that I need to be even better than I was in basic, or even better than I was yesterday.”

Straker is now frequently asked by those heading to basic military training what his secret to success was. Recognizing that each trainee will have a slightly different experience, Straker tells future trainees to focus on not settling for mediocrity, being obsessive, and helping the people around you.
“Serving others is what’s really going to set you apart as a leader,” he said.

Straker credits much of his motivation and success to a strong family foundation. “Growing up, my mom and grandma definitely instilled being excellent and to never give up on things,” he said. Sadly, his grandmother passed away during the second half of basic training. Remarkably, Straker was able to turn this tragedy into strength. “This loss definitely helped drive me,” he said. As his mom and grandmother often said, “Whatever you put your mind to you better accomplish it, and put forth the effort to accomplish it.”

Another factor in Straker’s impressive basic military training performance was the preparation the 118th WG provides all recruits. Called the student flight, recruits participate in this program until their date is determined. The primary purpose is to educate recruits on what to expect.

“When they show up on station they’re already a step ahead of active duty and the reserves, who never get to hang out in a student flight,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Austin, recruiting office superintendent. “I try my best to get them in the mindset that you’re going to get the shock of your life.”

When Straker joined the student flight, Austin knew he was someone special. “I knew he was going to be an outstanding troop because of his demeanor and being very articulate,” he said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever had come through, and I’m proud of him.”

“I’ve always been a go-getter and focused on my goals,” said Straker. “And if I come up short, I come up short, but at least I know I’ve put in all of the effort I could. That’s always been my mindset.”

It is this mindset that has put Straker down in 118th WG history books.

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