By BGen Andrea M. Tullos
I’ve always loved team sports. Now that my competitive seasons are in the past, I live for college football season. I love the ability of a well-coached, disciplined team of amateurs to out-perform a more talented team, the beauty of a well-executed halftime adjustment, and the heartbreak of a crucial mistake by a young, talented athlete who was either not prepared or simply couldn’t execute under a form of pressure which can’t be simulated in practice. I was the rare athlete who loved practice as much as the games. Thinking back, I should have known then I would love the military. We have the best military in the world because we have the best training delivered by the best trainers—largely, our noncommissioned officer corps. We value training above any other activity and we value the process of planning, training, rehearsing, and executing above all other processes. It’s been said many times our Airmen will not simply rise to the occasion when the mission demands—they will sink to the level of their training. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to keep that bar higher than any force we may face, conventional or otherwise.
A decade and a half of combat made us extraordinarily proficient at our expeditionary mission. This is a testament to the capabilities of our regional training centers (RTC), the professionalism of our trainers, and the experience levels of our NCOs who ensure complacency doesn’t undermine training and who conduct battle drills to reinforce that training down range. Our training centers continuously improve upon our ability to deliver capabilities the Combatant Commanders demand every day—our Ravens, DAGRE teams, nuclear convoy teams, and Contingency Response Groups, to name a few. At the foundation, our technical training school delivers motivated, disciplined Defenders to our squadrons who embrace our core values and are ready to take basic skills to the next level.
But years of operational tempo, budget cuts, and downsizing forced us to make difficult decisions which impact the way we train. We have over played computer based training, which has a place in the training continuum, but which is currently too prolific. As we forward deployed NCOs in greater numbers, the CONUS training burden shifted from supervisors to training sections in the form of classroom delivery, power point based curriculum. This is not a criticism of our unit trainers, but to the extent we can empower supervisors to own the training of their Airmen and enhance a critical element of a young NCO’s development, I believe we should.
Perhaps of most concern, we largely eliminated opportunities units had to participate in large scale collective training. Some Major Commands are “deployed in place,” which removes the impetus to send their Airmen to an RTC. We don’t go to the Joint Readiness Training Center and under the new Air Force Inspection Program, Wings do not conduct Operational Readiness Exercises. Unless you are in USAFE, PACAF, or Global Strike, you likely don’t experience a COCOM exercise. Yes, we used to fight the scenarios and complain about “exercise-isms”, but we learned invaluable lessons about our Airmen which we don’t want to learn for the first time on the battlefield. We witnessed our leadership make decisions under stress, we were forced to team up with maintenance, engineers, and medics while in MOPP gear to accomplish some randomly selected task, not even realizing it was just forcing us to build teamwork, solve problems, and overcome adversity. We exercised command and control in a manner which is simply not replicated by FPCON drills and active shooter exercises, which currently dominate our exercise landscape.
The bottom line is we all used to get more reps. Now some of us don’t get reps, some only get individual reps, and some get a narrow slice of reps which don’t fully develop the versatility we need in our Defenders. I believe reps are the fundamental difference between that talented Defender executing under pressure and that same talented Defender fearing failure, not trusting their own ability to execute, not trusting their Wingman is doing their job in support, and potentially hesitating or failing when it matters most.
The good news is we know where the gaps are, we have exceptionally talented leaders tackling these gaps, and we believe we have the resources to start rebalancing the type of training we do and how we deliver it. Our senior leaders in the Pentagon have already asked “what do you need?” to adjust fire. You will hear more about this from Chief Hartz, who has a team of Chiefs and NCOs who have already built an exceptional foundation for our way ahead. For now, get ready to train!