Air Force JROTC takes a trip to the airport

Imagine for a moment you’ve just boarded your flight. 

You put one carry-on bag in the overhead bin, and your second under the seat in front of you, leaving just barely enough legroom. You put your phone on airplane mode as the seatbelt sign lights up and the plane starts moving. While the flight attendants explain the safety instructions you stare out the window paying half attention, and spot a yellow school bus rumbling along the airport’s taxiways. On April 5, this scenario may have been a reality for some traveling at the Austin airport.

Every year, Air Force JROTC takes an annual Curriculum-in-Action field trip, this year peering behind the curtain of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. This year’s annual trip featured a bus tour of many of the airport’s facilities, usually off-limits to those not working there, including the taxiways.

“It’s very rare, and a privilege, to be able to drive out on the taxiways and see the things that we’re seeing,” Airport Security Compliance Agent Alexander Presley said. “I work here every single day [and] I don’t even get to go out there very rarely, so it’s an extreme privilege to be able to get out there on the taxiways, see the planes land, and taxi right next to you.”

Named after Captain John August Earl Bergstrom, the first Austinite killed in action during World War II, the airport now known as the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was once the Bergstrom Air Force Base. Opening in 1942 and operating for 50 years before closing in post-Cold War 1993 to transition into an airport. The airport opened in 1999. 

“I hope that they can see how a lot of the jobs that exist in the military, for example at an airforce base, also exist at Austin-Bergstrom Airport,” Senior Aerospace Science Instructor Frank Rich said. “Everything from pilots to those that load the airplanes, to those that refuel and maintain the airplanes. We even spent time at a fire department on the airfield today. Those types of jobs exist in the military, and also exist in the civilian world at the airport.”

While the trip was primarily a bus tour, there were a couple of stops along the way. One of these stops was at the airport’s fire department where a demonstration took place. An airport firetruck pulled out of the garage and punctured a sheet of metal simulating the body of an aircraft, before spraying a concentrated blast of water through the new hole.

“I actually found out something I didn’t know about those types of fire engines they use at the airport,” JROTC Chief Lauren Owens said. “That was the most exciting part because they got the chance to get out and get up close and personal.”

There’s often a lot more to airports than meets the eye. It takes lots of moving pieces to put a flight in the air. The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport puts 200 to 250 flights depart from the airport each day. 

“I think there’s a difference in perspective of what you see,” junior James Bisone said. “Usually people don’t look at what’s going on out on the ground when they’re at the airport they’re just paying attention to ‘am I missing my flight?’ So I think it’s going to be a lot more interesting to see the various things that go on behind the scenes that make the airport experience what it is.”

In fact, this difference in perspective is part of what inspired the field trip in the first place.

“I can take you to a very elite restaurant, but they always tell you if you want to know how a restaurant works go in the kitchen,” JROTC Chief Lauren Owens said. “That’s where the work happens. You see the inside of a terminal, you see when you check in, and that all seems very nice, but all the work happens on the tarmac and the flight line. I wanted to get them up close and personal with that so that next time they fly, they got a much deeper appreciation to what really needs to happen to really make that plane get up in the sky.”