A new year and a re-newed focus

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeff McLemore
  • 81st Training Group deputy commander
With the New Year came a re-newed focus on developing a culture of responsible Airmen here. The mission of the 81st Training Wing is not only to develop the technically proficient Airmen through 81st Training Group and Medical Group courses, but additionally; like every unit in the Air Force, we are charged with developing Airmen who have a better understanding of the purpose of Airmanship, and this is where Keesler is making significant improvements.

For years, Keesler has been at the forefront of developing the world's most technically proficient Airmen. However, there was a disconnect in the quality of Airman that graduated through our schools. As a team, we have been very good at addressing the specific issues that plagued our forces. Issues such as alcohol-related incidents, use of illegal drugs, sexual assaults, harassment, maltreatment and maltraining are all identifiable areas that we independently attacked as detrimental to good order and discipline. Unfortunately, we have not always directly correlated these acts with a culture of poor decision making, ignorance of consequences or irresponsible choices. It is for this reason six months ago, the members of the 81st TRW began a detailed look into the process of developing a culture of responsible Airmanship.

The development of an Airman is an ongoing process. It does not happen overnight, nor does it end at a magical moment of transition or graduation. The development begins with the recruiter when he or she reveals the young man or woman's aspirations of becoming part of a team greater than the individual. The transformation is set into motion when the individual enters Basic Military Training and is provided the expectations of what it means to be an Airman. From BMT, enlisted member's progress to their first tech school where they are taught the specifics of their individual Air Force Specialties. It is here that Team Keesler is now focused on improving the transformation and development of our Airmen. Up until now, there can be a significant difference in the motivation and understanding of each Airman. An Airman arriving at Keesler can possibly have experienced 200-plus days of delayed entry, which may greatly reduce the aspirations he or she previously had, or the Airman may have come directly onto active duty immediately after seeing the recruiter. The same Airmen experience six weeks of BMT, and it isn't until week 7 that he or she focuses on Airmanship and history of the service, moving on a week later. It is this gap in continuous Airmanship development that we are trying to bridge through our culture of responsible Airmanship.

Our program at Keesler is focused on providing each Airman with a working understanding of, and respect for heritage and service. By streamlining our in-processing procedures and integrating new Airmanship training at all levels of leadership, Team Keesler is well on the way to producing a higher caliber Airmen who is capable of positively impacting the Air Force mission immediately upon graduation. Our new culture of responsible Airmanship is one that begins the process immediately upon arrival at the Levitow training facility, and continues throughout their entire tech school experience. No matter if you have a five-week school or a 48-week school, the learning never stops.

Beginning with the first new students in January, Keesler implemented a program that reduced the number of in-processing briefings by 11. We aligned all of our training and information to develop a solid foundation for understanding the role of an Airman, while building on the resiliency support available to each Airman from across the wing. With the help of the IDS and the CAIB, the 81st TRG was able to allocate up to seven hours back to the squadron military training leaders for initial mentoring of the Airmen. The mentoring sessions utilize small group studies to discuss realistic stressors and situations that Airmen may face during their training. The scenarios were developed in coordination with base support agencies such as the sexual assault and prevention office, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment, base legal office, Airman and family readiness center and mental wellness experts. Not only do the scenarios provide the Airmen with an understanding of what has caused others to fail, but each scenario is tied back to our core values, wingmanship, code of conduct and Uniform Code of Military Justice expectations. Aside from providing the fundamental information for success, the program allows the MTLsto reaffirm their role as a NCO mentor and helps MTLs establish and build a positive, professional rapport with the Airmen from the beginning.

At the end of the in-processing week, each Airman will return to the Levitow facility, where they have an opportunity to meet the actual members of the base helping agencies they learned about during the focus group discussions. In the form of a job fair, identified as "Right Start" at Keesler, the organizations set up information booths fostering a more interactive discussion with the individual Airmen. Due to the limited space available, the Airmen are broken up into two groups during this event. While one group is gathering information from Keesler CAIB agencies, the other group is meeting a panel of members selected from the local 5/6 Group. The 5/6 members volunteer their time to give a more peer-to-peer type of discussion of why the Air Force is a great way of life. Many of the panel members attended tech-training at Keesler and have returned, or been directly assigned here, thus enabling them to connect in a more personal manner than more senior leadership. During the panel, no Airmen over the rank of technical sergeant is in the room and therefore; a greater amount of honest discussion can occur.

In addition to our changes to in-processing, Keesler has also instituted other programs that we hope will further develop our Airmen. Changes to the Airman transition program place more relevant briefings immediately prior to the Airmen receiving advanced transition program status. Each member attends an ADAPT brief and participates in a "Drunk Busters" training to remind the Airmen of secondary effects of irresponsible drinking. The integration of history and tradition into the Airman Leadership Program, calls for a greater understanding of the "Legacy of Valor" that each Airman promises to be faithful to in the Airman's Creed. Aside from teaching the Airmen Leaders how to attain accountability and march other Airmen, an emphasis is now placed on the skillsets needed to successfully manage a variety of situations.

The 81st TRW is not only focused on increasing the Airman's decision of responsible choices, but the program also includes areas that re-affirm their commitment at different levels of their training. With each new rope an Airman earns, they re-affirm their understanding of the program through additional testing. Tradition is also an area that we feel helps build the character of our Airmen and one tradition that had gone unrecognized was that of promotions. Until recently, Airmen in tech training would show up at random times throughout the month wearing new rank based on their time in service. They were not recognized and the significance of this important milestone was not acknowledged by leadership. Much like the 81st TRW, the 81st TRG now holds a monthly promotion ceremony for the Airmen being promoted that month. The student processing center provides the military training office with a list of all Airmen being promoted. At the beginning of the month, a group recognition program, the Dragon Recognition Program, is held. It is at this time, that all promotees names are proudly called out in front of the entire Training Group, with each individual forming up in front of their peers to re-affirm their commitment to service by taking the oath administered by the 81st TRG commander.

All of the training programs in the world won't help develop a better Airman if the NCO's and officers performing the training aren't committed to the cause. It is for this reason the program also includes supplemental training for the staff as well as the students. Team Keesler is fully engaged at all levels to ensure the Airmen we are entrusted with, are receiving the best technical training and military mentoring possible.

By helping to develop the minds of our Airmen to see the consequences of their actions in advance, and by providing them the tools of support that they deserve before they are needed, Team Keesler is not only graduating our front line technician Airman, but helping to mold and mentor our next generation of Airmen leaders. These are the Airmen that have accepted the challenge of leading our future Air Force. It is this group of Airmen that have stepped up to take ownership in the actions of their Wingmen, and it is this generation of Airmen that will be building on the "Proud Heritage, a Tradition of Honor and a Legacy of Valor" that we all stand so proudly behind. It is for this reason that all members of the 81st TRW and Team Keeler are continuing to train and develop the best Airmen in the greatest Air Force in the world.