Keesler training builds next generation of Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Maureen Smith
  • 81st Training Group commander
In January 1941, the city of Biloxi gave the U.S Army Air Corps land to build a base to support World War II training buildup. Seventy-one years later, Keesler Air Force Base is still providing the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps technically-trained Airmen, Sailors, and Marines to support missions around the globe.

Keesler began its mission in 1941 by teaching aircraft mechanics, aerial gunnery and aviation cadets. Over the years, our mission of training has not changed; only the courses we provide. Today, the 81st Training Group is the second largest training group in the Air Force, graduating 30,000 students annually supplying six functional communities, 37 Air Force Specialty Codes and six officer career fields.

The skills sets we provide to the Air Force range from critical command and control, comptroller, personnel, weather, radar, precision measurement equipment laboratory, and the newest addition, cyber training. We teach our Airmen to support, attack and defend our newest operational domain, cyberspace. While the types of courses provided at Keesler are constantly changing to meet the needs of the Department of Defense, one thing that doesn't change is the professional training experience our students receive from our dedicated cadre of instructors and military training leaders.

Each week I have the honor to brief our nonprior service arrivals from basic military training. I use this time to establish expectations of the Airmen while at Keesler. Students have two goals while assigned to the 81st Training Group -- to learn the technical skill the Air Force has assigned to them and to continue the military training they began at BMT.
It takes the teamwork of the instructors and MTLs, my front-line leaders, to ensure these goals are met. The roles of these leaders are many.

Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy, 81st Training Wing commander, said, "BMT is the equalizer; it takes Airmen from all walks of life, teaches them basic military skills, Air Force core values, and instills a desire to serve."

What we receive is the Airmen with an almost blank slate -- it is the front line leader's responsibility to instill enthusiasm for the Air Force mission, continue to reinforce core values and Air Force standards, and provide the core technical skills to build upon as they progress through their careers. The responsibility these leaders have is enormous. They provide a strong foundation that shapes the next generation of Airmen who will lead this Air Force 20 and 30 years from now. The Airmen sitting in these classrooms and marching in the Triangle training area will eventually lead new Airmen in combat situations. It is our mission to ensure they receive the best foundation to ensure they are successful.

While it is natural to focus on our largest population of students, the NPS airmen, we cannot forget the other populations we serve, including young officers and prior service Airmen here for retraining or supplemental skills training or the many classes we offer worldwide through our mobile training teams.

The technical skills we provide to each of these groups also provide a strong foundation for these Airmen to support home and deployed operations around the globe.

What drives our front-line leaders to dedicate themselves to this important mission? They have a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of young Airmen and provide a positive influence that contributes not only to the individual, but to the strength of the nation's defense. They believe that they can make a difference through upholding Air Force standards, challenging the Airmen to expand their knowledge and skill sets, and giving them hope for a brighter future where they serve the greater good.

This is what drives the instructors and MTLs to work the long hours we demand, rising before dawn and often working late to ensure the curriculum is current or so they have a chance to mentor an Airman late in the day. Knowing they have made a difference in an Airman's life and are contributing to the great Keesler tradition of developing the next generation of Airmen is a strong motivation for these professionals.

Keesler's tradition of training is much more than the brick and mortar of the buildings or the equipment in the classroom. It requires the men and women who dedicate their time and energy to develop the next generation of airmen and leave the Air Force a better place than when they joined.