Revitalizing squadrons: A commander’s perspective

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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) — Over the course of a 20 year career, I have experienced some challenges at the squadron level due to decisions made by higher headquarters staff personnel that have negatively impacted squadrons or go against what a commander might think is best for their squadron.

For the most part these decisions and initiatives are meant to help squadrons, but unfortunately, they don’t always hit the mark.

So I was very optimistic when Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein released his first focus area on revitalizing Air Force squadrons.

As a current commander serving in Air Education and Training Command and 2nd Air Force, the efforts to move authorities and decisions down to the tactical commanders is having massive positive impacts on squadrons. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like a commander.

I feel I have the authority, decision flexibility and true support from my senior leaders to assess my squadron and make decisions that are not only best for the mission and the squadron, but for my people. I feel I can take calculated risks for the mission and not be constrained by “red tape”.

An example of a positive impacting change has been to the Basic Instructor Course, a required course designed to give new instructors the skill necessary to provide training. Recently, training units have been delegated the authority to change this course to best suit the unit’s individual needs.

Many of the space and nuclear operators and maintainers come to the 381st Training Group with years of training experience at the operational wings. Although the training squadron produced exceptional instructors, the current course did not meet the trainee needs.

Now the course is being re-designed to build in student centric learning theories and provide a course length relative to an instructor’s experience. This initiative moves away from a “cookie-cutter” instructor course to a flexible course that produces outstanding instructors to train United States Air Force space and nuclear warriors and aligns with AETC’s Continuum of Learning initiatives.

Another example of squadron commanders being empowered relates to training technology approvals. Traditionally, the approval process for a particular software and hardware device to be certified and authorized for used in technical training classrooms takes eight months to two years.

This process was not conducive for our mission given the speed of current technology improvements, the advanced level of knowledge of our space trainees and the rapid change in learning initiatives within AETC.

With the recent command reorganization, the squadron commander can now approve these systems after careful consideration of risk and proper documentation. This was a huge game changer not only for the mission, but as a clear message that squadrons were in fact being revitalized and decision making authorities were being pushed down to commanders.

Empowering unit level decision making is not the only initiative from Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, commander of AETC and Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, 2nd Air Force commander. Everything from how the AETC instructions are written to how resources are used in squadrons has been re-examined.

As a commander in the field, I feel I now have a greater say in mission impacting decisions. As a past student of Air Command and Staff College I recall the lesson on centralized command and control, decentralized execution. AETC is putting this lesson into practice and the positive correlations are evident in this current environment as commanders are being trusted to make decisions.