Shape, motivate and inspire

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Aaron Edwards
  • P-S GAR Public Affairs

Military Training Instructors require a combination of grit, wit and professionalism to properly mold new members of the U.S. Air Force. While attending basic military training in October 2007, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Johnathan Mollison, 21st Comptroller Squadron senior enlisted leader was inspired by these traits, setting him on a path to become an MTI himself.

“I always knew that I wanted to be an MTI,” said Mollison. “I remember when I graduated basic, I tried to beg my MTI at the time to recycle me. I was like ‘we can push another couple of flights together sir, we can do this.’”

The USAF receives trainees from all over the world who come from all different walks and stages in life. While Mollison was going through BMT he was inspired by a trainee in his flight who was homeless prior to their enlistment in the Air Force.

“It was super inspirational seeing someone that came from nothing and then watching them walking down the bomb run, shoulders back, chest out, just inspired and so excited about the future they have,” said Mollison. “I loved seeing that transformation.”

Mollison saw MTIs as the best of what the air force had to offer and admired the way they carried themselves, their professionalism and their expertise in drill and ceremony, he wanted to join their team. After eight years of service in finance, Mollison denied his career reenlistment bonus and began training to become an MTI in June of 2016.

“They said, ‘if you take this job [as an MTI] you’re not eligible to receive your tax free bonus,’” said Mollison. “I didn’t think about it for a second. – I’ve wanted to do this ever since I joined, so I jumped at the opportunity.” 

Training to become an MTI begins with the instructor candidate shadowing an experienced MTI for two weeks. During this time the candidate experiences day-to-day life as an instructor before attending a 35-day formal course. Afterwards, they are assigned to a training squadron for 90 days of on-the-job training.

“You’re coming from your career fields and you’re supposed to be the best of the best,” said Mollison. “It takes a big person to eat a piece of humble pie and realize that no matter how good I was at my last job, I’ve got a lot of growing and shaping to do for myself. You have to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and think, ‘I’ve got to get better each and every day,’ because all of the trainees in your flight are absolutely counting on you.”

Mollison had very long days while training to become an MTI, some well over 12 hours long.

“It wasn’t the required amount of time, but I was putting in 13 hour days,” said Mollison. “You would go to school for the day and then afterwards you have to teach yourself how to do drill. – My classmates and I would work together before and after hours, just trying to become masters of a skill we were trying to teach people.”

Once Mollison completed training he spent three years pushing and supervising more than 60 flights across the 321st Training Squadron and the 323rd TRS. During his time as an MTI, Mollison filled special roles as a black rope instructor training new MTIs, and as an instructor supervisor looking after and managing the MTIs and trainees in his section.

“Learning to manage multiple issues at one time without losing mission focus, and not letting my members lose mission focus, has exponentially made me a better leader,” said Mollison. “It prepared me to come back to the operational Air Force and reinvigorate that drive and inspiration in people, to help them remember why they joined the Air Force.”

Being an MTI is so much more than what is perceived from the outside. Sometimes MTIs have to be that loud scary person that commands respect from dozens of new trainees, other situations call for a more gentle caring approach.

“You often have to build people up when they’re crushed from terrible news, like losing loved ones, or someone that’s struggling with the educational piece of their journey…a lot of people don’t realize that you’re a mentor.”

“Being an MTI has given  [Mollison] a better perspective on how to shape young Air Force minds and how introduce them to a new way of life,” Said Senior Airman Christian Tweedie, 21st CPTS, financial operations technician.

Special duty assignments - such as MTIs - help develop and transform our already strong enlisted leaders into the astonishing leaders they need to become in order to lead at the squadron, wing and even the branch level.

For more information on developmental special duty assignments please go to the DSD MyPers homepage at