Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas —
The 350th Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron has implemented a nine-week preparatory course for all Battlefield Airmen candidates. Battlefield Airmen graduating from Basic Military Training will have to complete the course before transitioning into the initial entry course.
“The prep course was added to reduce attrition rates and create a faster, stronger and more resilient candidate,” said Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Smith, 350th BATS superintendent. “To accomplish that, we focus on the holistic approach of mind, body and warrior spirit. When we started this course, the goal was to increase graduation rates by 10 percent. We’ve really exceeded expectations and after a year of the course, rates have gone up by about 21 percent.”
Smith said the course addresses foundational pillars of holistic health, improving performance in the training environment and setting up candidates for success throughout their careers and lives outside the military. In order to reach attrition goals, it is imperative that candidates focus on keeping themselves injury free.
“We’ve traditionally had a lot of students get injured and their risk of getting re-injured was too high,” said Smith. “We work really hard on injury prevention in this course because often, injuries are career postponing or worse.”
In order to prevent injuries, the course utilizes multiple resources and methods, added Smith.
“The candidates receive a screening from our physical therapists and athletic trainers,” said Smith. “We test them on their gait and have a digital system to spot potential injury risks on a student’s body. There’s nothing we can do to prevent every injury, but we’re gathering a lot of research on what kinds of situations increase the risk.”
Along with an emphasis on injury prevention, the course also stresses a scientific approach utilizing advanced metrics to improve performance and long-term practices. According to Smith, over the nine weeks, a massive amount of data is gathered and analyzed.
“There’s at least one sensor attached to each candidate at all times,” said Smith. “We monitor about 300 data points daily per student and put it all into a central database to find out trends, as well as strengths and weaknesses for each student. It really helps us to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
All of this data assists course instructors in planning and implementing future training.
“Running, rucking, and swimming are a huge part of being a Battlefield Airmen and those are the categories we primarily focus on,” said Tech. Sgt. Eric Megala, a 350th BATS instructor. “Rather than just pushing them as hard as we can, we have to take all the data we’ve gathered about human performance and apply it to the training.
In addition to the physical aspect, students enrolled in the course receive training for the daily tasks needed for success, added Megala.
“We give them nutrition guidelines, day-to-day communication skills and general life skills you need to be successful as a Battlefield Airman,” said Megala.
To go along with this life skills training, the course also provides candidates with mentorship from experienced instructors who have been through the Battlefield Airman training process and exemplify the traits needed to become a successful warfighter.
“Everything we wish we would have known, we pass to them,” said Megala. “Prior to the prep course, there was no transition period and people didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into. We also teach them how important what they are doing is. We try to give them something to reach back to in the tough moments when they want to quit and give them that extra motivation to push through it.”
At the end of the course’s first year, Smith said the instructors are confident that the effort put into the course has had the desired effect.