Sergeant Koch: The not so basic trainee

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These acts brought America to a screeching halt; nothing else that day seemed to matter. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and the destiny of a generation changed forever. For those individuals serving in the military, their stories paint a picture that shaped today's Air Force.)

"On September 11, I was about four or five weeks into basic training," said Staff Sgt. Shawn Koch, 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, aircraft fuel systems craftsman shift non-commissioned officer in charge. "I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That morning, we were out on the drill pad fine-tuning our marching for parade when a Training Instructor came running out dorms yelling and screaming for everyone to grab their stuff and get inside. We didn't know what was going on, we thought it was just part of the training."

"My name is Sergeant Shawn Koch and I'm originally from Hamilton, Montana. Hamilton is a small rural town with a population of roughly 2,500 people. It's a small piece of the world that I call home; it was a good place to grow up in."

Hamilton sits in the western part of Montana in the Bitterroot Valley, Sergeant Koch said. It's big for outdoor activities such as fishing. That was how I grew up.

"High school for me was a lot of sports and maybe not enough academics," Sergeant Koch said. "I didn't do so well in school in terms of academics and college wasn't the best avenue for me financially and because my maturity level wasn't up there enough to go to class on my own. I never had an issue with doing push-ups, sit-ups or running and I felt the Air Force would be a good place to go because good discipline and order was what I needed to be successful."

Sergeant Koch also had some family members that were also in the Air Force. He was able to get a better understanding of what it would be like through their experiences. The benefits he would receive and the proverbial doors it would open that would help him become successful in the future, played a part in his decision making. On August 14, 2001, Sergeant Koch left for basic training.

Basic training is almost like being stranded on a deserted island. There's very little connection or communication with the outside world, the sense of time or even what day it is slips away.

No one was certain whether the T.I.'s were joking or not. It wasn't until later when they knew something actually occurred, said Sergeant Koch.

"We knew something was up when we didn't see our T.I. for hours and were told to be very stringent on our entry control point procedures," Sergeant Koch said. "It wasn't until the T.I. brought in a newspaper the next morning and smeared all over the front was a picture of the second plane crashing into the tower. That's when everyone knew something was seriously wrong."

According to Sergeant Koch, after that, everyone in his flight thought they were going to graduate basic and go off to different areas of the world with little to no training.

"Everyone was frantic," Sergeant Koch said. "We didn't know what was going to happen. It was a fear of the unknown. We didn't realize that the Air Force was not going to send us into the field without having any technical training or even a job, so it was chaotic."

After the events of September 11, Sergeant Koch's mentality as to why he joined the Air Force changed.

"Initially, I joined the Air Force to go to school, maybe learn a trade or just to get out of Hamilton, Montana," Sergeant Koch said. "After September 11, I realized that I had an opportunity to serve my country. I could make a difference. Everyone in my flight, including me, was worked up that someone had the audacity to fly a plane into the World Trade Center and kill all those people. I felt like I could do some good and protect myself and my family."

After basic, Sergeant Koch went to tech school for aircraft fuel systems maintenance. Upon graduation, he was assigned his first duty station at D-M.

"When I first arrived at D-M, I really wanted to deploy. I would be able to serve my country and in some small way, I felt like I could get back at the people who attacked us. I did end up deploying to Afghanistan and even though I was a little nervous, scared and excited; I was proud to do it."

During the last 10 years of Sergeant Koch's career and in response to the attacks on September 11, he has noticed the mission change dramatically.

"When I first came in, it seemed like the mission was more focused on being a conventional-type conflict," Sergeant Koch said. "Now we're going out there and getting after the enemy and making a huge difference to the guys and girls on the ground. I think we're a much better force because of it."