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Fort George G. Meade, Md. --Coming back to a new school year was difficult, even for an experienced teacher. Her new special education math class was crowded. Twenty students impatiently waited for class to start. Then she remembered she's had done it all before.
This year, however, Senior Airman Erin Carpenter, a reservist with the 731st Airlift Squadron at Peterson AFB, Colo., decided to incorporate the Air Force core values into her curriculum. In big, blue letters "integrity, service, excellence" found a permanent spot in her classroom.
After all, she had adopted these values as her own. For almost two years, Carpenter has served as a personnelist in the Air Force Reserve while teaching special education math in her full-time civilian job.
"So much of how I want my students to behave is wrapped up in these values," Carpenter said. "I wanted them to know that despite the unique challenges they all face, we should all strive to be and do our best, and that's all I ask of them, ultimately."
Then, after sharing the core values with her students, she shares her decorated class with the world, by posting a photo of it online: Carpenter is not only a teacher and personnelist; she is also an award-winning blogger, sharing every aspect of her career as an Air Force reservist with her readers.
Earlier this year, her blog "Aim High Erin" won the milblogging.com award in the Air Force category and it still places among the 20 most frequented Air Force blogs, according to the popular blog-indexing site.
Carpenter started blogging as a military spouse, sharing her feelings about her husband's deployments with the Army and their struggle to find time together. Without the lofty aspirations other bloggers may have of building a large audience or landing a book deal, she simply enjoyed the exchange with others in the military community.
"At the time I didn't really have an overarching theme for it," Carpenter said. "I would just ramble or talk about topics as they came up. It was kind of disjointed, but I did it because I love it, and there was a great community of bloggers out there."
While Carpenter said she absolutely loves teaching, she envied those who had the opportunity to serve their country in uniform. The teacher has been around the military as a spouse and has a brother in the Navy, but never thought she could step into the same boots, after spending years in the classroom.
"As much as I was inspired by those who had served -- their sense of pride in their accomplishments and who had that camaraderie with other veterans -- I always thought it was an all or nothing kind of deal," Carpenter said.
In early 2011, at age 30, she finally took the step and signed the "dotted line."
"I realized that, 'Hey, I can do both.' It would require sacrifices along the way -- having to remove myself from the classroom to do training -- But I can still continue to serve," Carpenter said. "I love that being a reservist allows me to fulfill both of my dreams, and sometimes those two worlds even collide."
As Carpenter prepared for basic training, her life and blog underwent visible change. What started as a military spouse blog quickly changed into a portal for all information related to the basic training experience and advice to new Airmen.
"My blog really became another teaching tool," she said. "And in that process, I really was finding my voice and combined what I wanted to write about, my passion, with what the readers actually wanted to hear about."
Even the stressful environment of basic training and lack of electronic devices, did not stop her from blogging. Using what little time she had, Carpenter wrote letters home and had friends update her blog in her stead -- detailing every step of the way.
"This is my summer vacation, for goodness sake," Carpenter wrote from her dorm at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, after the first weeks of training. "I know I should be home napping about now and I could use the sleep right now. It's a constant struggle to focus on the bigger picture and the goal in the distance."
After eight weeks as dorm chief, leading her flight through eight weeks of training, she graduated basic training as the top honor graduate.
"My proudest moment was hearing my name called when it was announced that I was the top honor graduate out of 817 trainees," Carpenter said. "Proving to myself that I was capable of accomplishing anything that I set my mind to, as well as achieving at the highest of levels, has been invaluable for my career."
In technical school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., she repeated her successful run through training and graduated, yet again, at the top of her class and with perfect scores. After she completed the transition from a training environment to her daily routine, she was ready to transform her blog into a useful tool for others.
"I decided, 'Hey let's start telling stories,'" she said. "I wanted to tell something different about BMT every day. I wanted to tell my own story, but help and reach out to others that were considering the same decision and make them more comfortable and confident in their preperation."
Life as a reservist can get busy when trying to combine duty and civilian life, Carpenter said, but she tries to find time to update her site with interesting items.
"She is really dedicated and updates her blog at least once a day," said Airman 1st Class Allyx Sutton, a personnelist with the 731st Airlift Squadron, who attended technical training with Carpenter. "(Blogging) is part of her daily routine and when talking about her day she'll often say that she's 'going to the gym, grabbing some groceries and then updating her blog.' She takes pride in it."
Carpenter's work paid off and her blog hit a need in the blogosphere. Many young Airmen began to seek advice from her and tried to get the scoop on "what it's really like" to go through Air Force basic training.
"The traffic and interest I was generating was just astounding," Carpenter said.
As a writer, Carpenter is level-headed and direct. Her commentary on Air Force topics is compassionate, considerate and quite often humorous. When she is not able to cover a subject sufficiently, she seeks to offer other perspectives in interviews with Airmen or through guest posts.
"Everybody's out there doing their research. We live in a digital age and the (new recruits) are Googling -- they're asking and looking for help," she said. "So I want to be able to present different perspectives so that every individual, regardless of their background, is getting their questions answered."
Erin Urban, a future trainee who enters basic training in May 2013, met Carpenter at her duty station and already benefited from the blog as she transitioned into the delayed entry program.
"It gave me answers to questions I never thought to ask," said Urban about the blog. "She was in the same boat as me, with a husband in the military and she was an Army wife, like I was. That helped."
For Urban, the blog is helpful in many ways, but she especially enjoys learning about how to prepare for BMT.
"She has a lot of articles about how to get ready, about fitness, what to bring, what not to bring and what to expect," Urban said. "I never even thought of stuff like that. I knew I was going into something new, but there was research I hadn't even done."
Carpenter doesn't limit her advice only to a referral to her blog. She meets with Urban simply to talk and give advice on the upcoming challenges.
"She pushed me in the right direction of improving my runtime for example," Urban said. "She's just been wonderful."
Recently, Carpenter blog's narrative has taken yet another turn, as she announced not only her own pregnancy, but also her approved application for commissioning through the Deserving Airmen Commissioning Program.
"She sets the bar pretty high, she just blows everybody out of the water," Sutton said. "She is very driven and ten times more motivated than the average Airman. She is a very fun person to be with, but also has a lot of ambition. To me, she is perfect officer material."
For Carpenter, a career in the Air Force has just begun, and she said she is eager to tackle the challenges ahead.
"The tone of excellence has been set," she said. "And I continue to push myself to the next level in my education and my training."