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AF basic training a family affair: Mother, son cross paths en route to enlisted careers

Posted 1/29/2012 Updated 1/30/2012 -- 1/29/2012 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Like most any parent attending Friday's Air Force basic training graduation here, Lori Huayacla had to navigate through the crowd in search of her son.

But there was a difference for the 37-year-old mother of four from Portland, Ore., Huayacla was beginning a journey her eldest son, 19-year-old Justus Sanchez, had just completed - the 8½ weeks needed to complete Air Force basic military training.

Huayacla, now in her second week, was given permission to attend her son's coin and retreat ceremony Thursday, when trainees are recognized as Airmen, and Friday's graduation parade, when Airmen affirm their oath of enlistment.

For Sanchez, the road to Lackland, where all Air Force enlisted basic training is held, started in July when he signed up for the Air National Guard. His mother decided to join in late September.

"This is so awesome," said Huayacla, dressed in her Airman Battle Uniform as she sat in a front-row seat at Friday morning's graduation parade. "Just seeing him is overwhelming, and at the same time, comforting and encouraging. He's an inspiration to me."

The mother and son never thought they would see each other at basic training. Sanchez arrived on base in early December, and Huayacla found out several weeks later about her mid-January reporting date.

They glimpsed at each other Jan. 20 as Sanchez's training was coming to an end and hers beginning, briefly crossing paths in a dining facility. By coincidence, she had been assigned to a flight in the same training squadron as her son's.

"He asked me last week if his mother could come to graduation. It's an Air Force tradition to have family and friends attend BMT graduations, so I said 'yes, of course,'" said Staff Sgt. Eddie Glover, one of Sanchez's military training instructors.

"I never suspected that mom was here at basic training until he asked me for her unit mailing address. Boy was I surprised," he said.

Sanchez's intent was to get his mother's mailing address so he could write to her at basic training while he was attending technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"I didn't expect all of this. I didn't think she would be allowed to attend my graduation," said Sanchez.

Col. Glenn Palmer, the 737th Training Group commander in charge of basic training, was informed of the unusual circumstance. With the commander's encouragement, plans were made for Huayacla to attend both the coin ceremony and the graduation parade.

"The (training instructors) asked for special permission. Otherwise, she wouldn't be able to go," said Palmer. "I'm like, 'Yes! She needs to go.' She should see her son become an Airman and graduate."

Huayacla was a bundle of nerves throughout Thursday's coin ceremony. Although she had seen her son twice prior to the event, they could only acknowledge each other from afar. A week's worth of emotions finally came cascading down as mother and son embraced.

"It was very emotional for me because I hadn't seen him in so long," Huayacla said. "It was hard not to go running over to him before."

Friday's graduation was no different.

Thousands of family and friends rushed onto the parade grounds to congratulate the Air Force's newest members. Huayacla had to weave her way through the masses for yet another embrace she never expected.

"I wanted to show my kids that no matter how old you are, if you have a dream and put your mind to it, you can do it. Don't give up," Huayacla said.

Armed with that determination, she headed back to continue basic training, inspired to complete the family voyage by graduating herself March 16.