KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Oftentimes, the military requires an operations tempo that can feel completely overwhelming. In the technical training arena perhaps we don’t quite feel overwhelmed, but instead feel the training grind is non-stop. Well, many of our predecessors had to conduct training literally non-stop here at Keesler Air Force Base at different times during the last 74 years – imagine the challenges of executing your current mission knowing you would have minimal flexibility as there were no breaks in training.
World War II
Just over a year after technical training began at Keesler Field, training in 1942 reached a 24/7 tempo. The three training shifts ran from 6 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., 2 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. This level of training was needed to, of course, achieve a nearly 2.4 million member-strong Army Air Forces during World War II.
In 1943 alone, more than half a million Airmen graduated training across Air Training Command, now known as Air Education and Training Command. This total was achieved by increasing graduation rates five times over between 1942-1943. These figures are truly staggering when one reflects on what must have been required just to hire and train instructors, let alone secure the facilitates and equipment required to train such a massive increase in students … and having to assemble all of the moving parts while training never ceased.
Non-stop training was nearly implemented during the Korean War. Training across ATC once again went through a rapid expansion, going from 82,141 graduates in 1950 to 387,523 graduates in 1952. The radar and communications schools at Keesler extended their operations to six days a week. For a short time, 24-hour operations were required every day except Sundays.
The Vietnam War required another ramp-up in training, peaking at 311,242 graduates across ATC in 1969. One Keesler-specific statistic during this time is reflected by the Basic Electronics Division (BED), an entry-level communications course, known today as the Information Technology Fundamentals course. Keesler graduated 300 students from BED every week to begin their primary training course. As a comparison, ITF currently graduates around 270 Airmen every month.
Producing this amount of Airmen required around-the-clock training six days per week on Keesler from approximately 1968-1970: A-shift (6 a.m. to 12 p.m.), B-shift (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.), C-shift (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.), and D-shift (12 a.m. to 6 a.m.). The D-Shift was not used for all of the Vietnam War, but 18-hour training days were the norm for most of this period.
In addition to these long hours, instructors were dealing with wide-ranging language gaps. The international student population in electronics and communications courses included airmen from Vietnam, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Israel, among others. Courseware full of technical terms required additional language tutorials that instructors assembled and taught on their own in order to accomplish the mission.
On top of the language barriers, during this period electronics training here also underwent a technological upgrade: equipment was shifting from vacuum tubes to solid-state transistors. Since both types of technology were a part of equipment in the field, naturally both had to be taught in the classroom. Instructors therefore needed to learn the technology themselves, then somehow explain it to airmen from across the globe … and again assemble all of the moving parts while training never ceased.
In order to achieve the mission, civilian and military instructors all pitched in. Some instructors “routinely” pulled double shifts to accomplish the mission. As one now-retired instructor stated, “[When] somebody needed something you just put the time in.”
Much like the past, today instructors balance new technologies, face language barriers in the classroom and take personal classes at night. For better or worse, these challenges will also likely face those who will succeed us behind the podium. We should be thankful, though, that we are able to respond to all of these challenges without facing the additional burden of having to execute training literally around the clock without a break in sight.
Many thanks go to Werner Lamm and the AETC Historian’s Office. Any mistakes belong to the author. If readers can provide additional stories or corrected data to the 338rd Training Squadron director of operations regarding training at Keesler during any of these periods, I will gladly submit an updated version of this article. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to provide corrections or additional information.