JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
Becoming a Military Training Instructor wasn’t high on Tech. Sgt. Cameron Figueroa’s to-do list when he signed up for Developmental Special Duty. He thought the job was too different from his personality but his command chief told him, “when you look back you will thank me.”
Now that Figueroa’s been named Blue Rope of the Year for the 37th Training Wing, it looks like he may have to find his former command chief and let him know he was right.
Blue Ropes are Master MTIs; they signify the top 10 percent of the MTI corps.
“Being an MTI is nothing like I imagined it to be but in a good way,” Figueroa said. “The people who become MTIs are truly the best of the best because I have never been in an environment where everyone has such excellent work ethic and also cares for everyone else around them. It creates this tight-knit environment where bonds/friendships are developed for years to come.”
Figueroa, originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado, joined the Air Force in 2012. He had failed the physical fitness test to join the Colorado Springs police department so he began thinking of career alternatives.
“After talking to both my parents who were active duty Air Force it seemed like a good fit for me and I thought ‘why not?’ I really love the opportunities the Air Force has afforded me throughout my tenure,” he said.
Initially a contracting specialist, Figueroa became an MTI in 2018, and achieved Blue Rope status in 2020.
“It is one of the most motivating feelings to take civilians and transform them in a short few weeks to be confident, competent and committed Airmen,” Figueroa said. “As a line instructor the best part of the job hands down is the development of trainees. Developing trainees and NCOs alike to become better at their respective craft is what makes this job addicting and truly one of the best opportunities the Air Force can offer NCOs or senior NCOs.”
Figueroa said that when he became a Blue Rope he didn’t feel that he changed.
“I continued to do the same things I did prior to becoming a Blue Rope which was mentoring and challenging myself and others. Like Chief Master Sgt. Learie Gaitan (737th Training Group superintendent) says, ‘There is a reason that you can’t see the Blue Rope because it’s for others to see you as a mentor.’ The biggest thing that changed was I felt more pressure on myself to ensure I was always doing my part as a Blue Rope and advocating for the correct things,” he said.
“Seeing people grow and challenge themselves by earning Master Instructor Badges or Master Military Training Instructor certifications is what makes the long hours and maximum effort worth it,” Figueroa said. “Building up others and creating relationships with high-performing individuals is one of the greatest and unique aspects of this DSD.”
The biggest challenge Figueroa has overcome throughout his career is maintaining a positive outlook on events that are outside of his control.
“A chief mentor made me read a book about the power of positive thinking. It turned my outlook around about how people/leaders react to certain situations, and how we let those situations that are already predetermined control our reactions when it should be the other way around. It really shaped how I look at a lot of things as an MTI, NCO and person in today’s Air Force,” Figueroa said.
While he’s had many mentors during his career, Figueroa said it would be nearly impossible to name them all, but every person he’s talked with about regulations or how something is interpreted is considered a mentor.
“All of my success at BMT has been because of the peers and supervisors around me. If I didn’t have each of those conversations growth would not have occurred and made me better,” he said.
Figueroa was initially assigned to the 323rd Training Squadron, but is now noncommissioned officer in charge of training at the 737th Training Group Standardization/Evaluation division. He said his experience as an MTI has developed him personally and professionally in ways he could not have imagined.
“I am excited to bring all these tools that the best DSD job has taught me back to my career field,” he said.
For those who might consider following in his footsteps, Figueroa said becoming an MTI is one of the most humbling and developmental experiences the Air Force can offer.
“It teaches you it’s okay to make mistakes so long as we learn from them, however, we have to be able to take the chance at actually exposing ourselves by trying. If you want to become a better NCO, senior NCO or person in general, this Developmental Special Duty will serve as a launch pad for your career!” he said, adding, “To quote Denzel Washington: ‘I don’t want to fall back on anything … if I’m going to fall, I want to fall forward.’”