Smith gives encore performance with 81st TRG

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Col. Maureen Smith, the new commander of the 81st Training Group, is no stranger to Keesler and its training mission. From August 1995 to June 1998, Smith was an instructor and supervisor for manpower management courses with the 335th Training Squadron.

Smith assumed command of the 81st TRG July 28. She recently received a master of science degree in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. Her husband is Lt. Col. Nic Bernardi, also a student at ICAF.

For most of the last 10 years, Smith has been stationed in and around Washington D.C. She was at the Pentagon during the attacks of the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I was actually at the 'welcome to the Pentagon' briefing that morning," recalled Smith. "At some point during the briefing, they came in and told us that the twin towers in New York had been hit and right after that we felt the impact from the plane hitting the Pentagon. My office was on the side that got hit. It was very surreal."

What are you most excited about with this new position as commander of the 81st TRG?

What excites me the most is the opportunity to have an influence on the future of the Air Force through the development of our Airmen. Probably the most motivating part of my week is going to the new student briefings, listening to the students and what they hope to get out of the Air Force. It's really important that we give them a strong foundation in technical training and military bearing. It makes a huge difference in these Airmen's lives.

How have things changed since you were stationed at Keesler in the '90s?

My first observation was all upgrades that have been done to the buildings. They really are world-class learning facilities. The one thing that I'm pleased to see that hasn't changed is the quality of the instruction that we provide our students.

We have a lot of continuity with our civilians, instructors and training managers and they have done just a remarkable job in continuing the tradition of quality instruction and maintaining our core processes of learning.

What are your goals as the 81st TRG commander?

I want to continue the legacy of excellent training that 81st TRG provides. Given our current budget environment and as we start looking at drawing down resources and personnel, the challenge will be to ensure that we still have that strong training program for the students. We must continue to provide the Air Force with the most capable Airmen that we can when they go to their first duty assignment.

As with any training environment, the challenge is to remain relevant and we do that by continuing to review our training material to make sure we have what the Air Force needs in our curriculum. A great example of this would be in the area of cyber security. All our Airmen leave here with cyber security certifications. That's a big benefit to the field. When they get to their duty station, they're ready to go.

How has your previous experience prepared you for this job?

I think I come in with an advantage because I've been an instructor and supervisor here at Keesler and my husband at the time was a military training leader flight chief. So I understand the different facets of training and the mechanics and processes that go behind teaching on a podium. I understand the pressures that the MTLs have. I don't have to come up to speed on all that. It's more like a refresher course for me.

Also my time as a programmer at the Pentagon has given me an understanding of all the resource and manpower drills and this will be important as we start looking at drawing down our resources.

What do you like most about the Gulf Coast?

The people -- they're very friendly. You sometimes forget that when you go away. But when you come back, you realize this is a very friendly community and they really are willing to help you.

What is your impression of the 81st TRG and its staff?

My impression of the 81st TRG as I've gone through the orientations is that it has a phenomenal group of people who are dedicated to producing the best Airmen. I have been so impressed with the faculty, support staff and MTLs. They are top notch.

Another reason why I'm so impressed is that the attitude of the Airmen here is just so positive. Not only is that a result of the quality of recruits we get, but the excellent support and motivation they get from the permanent party we have here. They're excited about the mission.

This really is a one team, one fight base. I'm honored to be a part of it and have a hand in maintaining the enthusiasm Keesler has for its training mission.