Archive for Sunday, February 11, 2007

Girly girls’ toughen up in basic training

February 11, 2007


— It was grueling. It was insane. It was hell. It was the best experience ever.

Three 2006 Lansing High School graduates who joined the Air National Guard last summer found basic training was a challenge that brought on intense transformations.

When Jessie Mitchum, Angel Constantino and Nicole Holland enlisted in the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard, they saw themselves as "girly girls." But now, six months later, they see something different. They see strong, proud, capable women.

Even for them, the transformation can be hard to believe.

"Every time I look in the mirror, I think, 'I can't believe you went through basic training,'" Constantino said. "I was such a girly girl."

But basic training wasn't mere survival for the three "girly girls"; it was a crucible that redefined their characters and helped them find their most fundamental identity. It was an intense experience that, despite their vivid memories, the three still struggle to describe.

"Hell - is pretty much how to explain it, those six weeks," Mitchum said. "It was hard, pretty much everything like you see on TV ... someone wearing a huge Smoky the Bear hat yelling at you."

After the initial shock of the first dozen days, however, each realized they were changing - finding strength, discipline and resolve they had never known they possessed. Mitchum even began to understand the rationale behind the training's strictness.

"They reconstruct you from the person you are to the person they need you to be," Mitchum said.

By the end of the training, each could see the difference in herself. Constantino remembers a moment during a field exercise when it became clear for her. She felt a thrill that she had never before known - not in her former life, at least.

"I loved rolling around in dirt and being dirty," Constantino said. "No one at home can ever say they were rolling around in the dirt with M-16s and pitching tents."

Basic comforts

When the women left basic training and began their 12-week traffic management training, they had to determine their own schedules for the first time in more than a month. They realized even the rigid structure of basic training had become a comfortable home.

"It was hard. Angel and I used to be like, 'I hate it. I want to go back to basic so people can tell me what to do,'" Holland said. "Because you get so used to it. It was hard getting used to being free to do whatever."

But the sense of freedom was quickly replaced with a sense of dread about the amount of information the program required them to digest. And the stakes had never been higher: If they didn't pass their weekly test, they were required to stay an additional week. They couldn't go home until they made the grade.

Lansing High School graduates Nicole Holland, third from left, Jessie Mitchum, center, and Angel Constantino, third from right, are pictured with classmates at their Traffic Management School in San Antonio. The three self-proclaimed "girly girls" signed up for the Kansas Air National Guard in March 2006 and have since completed basic training, which they said was a transforming experience.

Lansing High School graduates Nicole Holland, third from left, Jessie Mitchum, center, and Angel Constantino, third from right, are pictured with classmates at their Traffic Management School in San Antonio. The three self-proclaimed "girly girls" signed up for the Kansas Air National Guard in March 2006 and have since completed basic training, which they said was a transforming experience.

"Some people think college is hard - and they have no idea," Mitchum said.

But with such a clear incentive, no one had trouble sticking to the books. When the program was finished, each had earned a place as an honor grad. Holland earned first place in her class.

About face

When the training was finally over and the women boarded the plane that would bring them home, they couldn't wait to get back. Wearing their uniforms, they carried themselves with an air of respect, even though it was hard not to get emotional when the plane landed.

"I ran off the plane just bawling - because we were in Kansas," Constantino said.

Their first few days home, Constantino, Holland and Mitchum saw their surroundings with new eyes, and others saw them in a new light. Not much had changed in Lansing in six months, but each of their lives had changed forever. And "fun" took on a whole new meaning.

"At first it was kind of normal, but we weren't really into doing the same things that we used to do," Holland said. "Now we called each other 'the grannies' because we never really did anything anymore. We just liked laying in bed and doing nothing."

"We're not those people anymore. We have this sense of integrity and responsibility," Mitchum said. "All of your dreams and ambitions have changed."

The three have held on to one plan they shared before enlisting: They're all going to college. Holland is enrolled at Kansas University, and Mitchum and Constantino will be attending Kansas City Kansas Community College.

As members of the Air National Guard, the women are required to work at Forbes Field one weekend per month plus two weeks per year. Each signed a six-year enlistment contract.


geekin_topekan 10 years, 10 months ago

Self confidence and esteem are the finest make-up a woman can wear. The rest is greasy pigment.

KS 10 years, 10 months ago

I think this country lost a lot when we did away with the draft and young people do not go thru basic military training. Would not want the draft back, but something like manners and self respect were lost. Good for these gals.

ronwell_dobbs 10 years, 10 months ago

I do love to hear about strong, confident, and self-respecting women. As per usual, we'll have to leave it to women to fix the mess that us men make. With enough strong and self-confident young ladies, problems such as unwanted pregnancies and emotional/physical abuse can be severely reduced.

Stephen 10 years, 10 months ago


I don't think we need to draft, I honsetly think that the "Abu Ghraib" prison scandle speaks volumes of the millitary complex and those who run it. On the other hand something l basic like training sounds good. Just prefer that its not the army.

Back to the issue of these girls, sure hope I don't read about them in a couple of months over in Iraq, and some IED. That thought in its self is criminal but lets look at the big picture. WAR SUCKS!!!!! Period the end

compmd 10 years, 10 months ago


Relax, these girls won't be anywhere near an IED in Iraq. The 190ARW flies KC-135s to support aerial refueling all over the world. They are also not in the Army, they are in the Air Force National Guard. Did you actually RTFA? If you're going to "look at the big picture," look at it knowing facts instead of dropping buzzwords to rile up the anti-war people.

I've met a bunch of people in the 184th and 190th, and they've all been great folks. Good work, girls.

james bush 10 years, 10 months ago

Maybe these are the women who will raise sons and daughters, at the appropriate time and place, that will appreciate being citizens of the USA and protect the western world from islamic women raising suicidal jihad radicals!

james bush 10 years, 10 months ago

Or, perhaps one of them will lead Harvard to be worthy of its roots!

james bush 10 years, 10 months ago

Please gawd!........ Don't let them be aclu lawyers!

james bush 10 years, 10 months ago

Regardless of the rhetoric their story generates, they are a great-looking bunch and I wish them the best!

Stephen 10 years, 10 months ago

Lets look at the big picture give me one single reason that we are in Iraq instead of Afganistan"war on terror" my arse!!! How much did we spend to kill Saddam, and over 100,000 + Iraqis dead. All the news about the pentagon and the white house fabricating all the lies to selling the war. Tell me what the big picture is little man about how this "war on terror" is going to save us all, or and give cheaper gas.
I feel sorry for these girls entering an "Air Force" at a time when we're starting to figure out a way to attack Iran. Anti War and I'm darn proud of it. I got friends over there now and the news is pretty grim.

compmd 10 years, 10 months ago

Stephen, this article has nothing to do with war policies, Washington lies, the war on terror, and all the other things you are pontificating about. Sure, you bring up some good points, but in the completely wrong forum. Please take your soapbox and move it somewhere more appropriate, like an article about war. You come in here and spout off when you know nothing about the 190th ARW, their mission, or the people involved. Three local girls who are going to be in tankers have absolutely nothing to do with what you are talking about.

Godot 10 years, 10 months ago

Girls who suffered through 12 years of the public school system, one that is dedicated to promoting self esteem, left the system with no self esteem, then discovered such self esteem after 6 weeks of military boot camp. Pay attention, folks.

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