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Education and training opportunities important to Air Force careers

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Every complicated decision or situation we face brings to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences and education. The fewer the experiences, the easier the decision, right? Unfortunately, no. With the ever-changing, increasingly complex military environment facing us, inexperience is a luxury we can't afford if we want to stay ahead of the game. How do we gain this broad experience while assigned to our current jobs? The answer is simple; through initial and recurring training and education.

Most people understand the importance of training, especially as it relates to the mission at hand. Initial qualification training, recurring training, the always beloved career development course and pre-deployment skills training are just some of the ways we prepare ourselves and the expectation of some immediate job-related payoff. Training for new procedures mandated by the Air Force or Air Combat Command is also important. Then there's ancillary training, and I can almost feel the eyes rolling further back.

There are all sorts of readily--available, job-related training requirements to keep us current in both our job skills and higher headquarters requirements. And, while time-consuming and often inconvenient, we have come to expect these training requirements as part of our military way of life. All too often, complacency creeps in and we begin to click away at PowerPoint or other learning modules to complete the testing portion and call it good for another year.

If training yields the fruit of experience on the job, then education is the fiber -- we know it's good for us, but we don't always look for or get enough of it, despite the great benefits it boasts. Often we tend to associate the term "education" with the pursuit of an undergraduate, graduate degree or professional military education. However, education spans a much broader aspect of learning which often doesn't take place in a classroom and from which we may not experience immediate benefits. Finding these pockets of learning opportunities can be in a variety of places.

During one of the prep exercises just prior to our last Logistics Standardization and Evaluation Team (LSET) inspection, the Maintenance Training Fmy flight was given an "opportunity to excel" (one of my personal favorites). The MTF staff and members from several units showed up to participate in the pallet build-up, quality assurance and marshalling portions of the base exercise. At the time I was initially notified of the tasking, I was working on another tasking between the 366th Maintenance Group and 366th Medical Group. Admittedly, I was slightly annoyed at being tracked down to rearrange my day to play in this particular reindeer game.

As I dashed back to my workcenter to prepare, I thought, "This might not be such a bad experience." By the time I reported to the appointed room and faced the waiting team who already had exercise inputs, my palms were a little sweaty and my heart rate elevated -- it was game time. I was given a file that contained the simulated information, along with the conditions of the weather, equipment failures, etc. Even though I knew this was just an exercise, the reality of what I was about to do (that many others had done for real) hit me. Even as we approached the first door and passed the exercise evaluation team inspectors inside the staging room, I clung to the training I had received to get me through the seemingly real cargo deployment preparation.

Once completed, our small group was headed back inside to the staging area, and I was thankful I'd gone through the experience. What did I learn? I had confidence to execute the task from having prepared through multiple base exercises and building confidence with the team I had spent so much time training with. This same team later received "Superior Performer" awards from LSET inspectors and helped deploy several units to real-world taskings. Chalk one up to both training and educational victories I might have missed out on, had I originally been given the choice to pass on.

How many opportunities for learning and education have we bypassed by not volunteering ourselves, our subordinates and especially our Airmen? As we go about the daily grind, over-tasked and undermanned, it's all too easy to shy away from good opportunities to grow as military professionals because it takes time away from accomplishing our core missions, . Even senior leaders are sometimes guilty of this due to sortie generations, mission capability rates and expected performance ratios needing to be met. Bbut sometimes, we need to weigh the benefits of suffering through a mission with further-stressed resources to allow folks to get better educated -- whether it's a short-term opportunity to excel, PME in residence or even a deployment.

Wing units throughout the Air Force recently reviewed their deployment posturing, taking honest, hard looks at what it takes to accomplish the home station missions. Some units made the decision to slightly increase the number of deployable billets within their squadrons, not because they're overmanned (most aren't) or even adequately manned. Many units did this because deployers will return with a wealth of knowledge and immeasurable experience which ultimately benefits the home station mission. Most deployers return with a fresh perspective on the Air Force, our joint brethren and an enhanced sense of national objectives and a renewed vigor to make a difference. If we can give Airmen opportunities to deploy or learn critical jobs that enhance our home station mission, it will pay dividends not only today, but years down the road long after we're gone and entrust the security of the nation and the Air Force mission to those we leave behind.

There are also several growth opportunities on much smaller scales and in shorter timeframes. Done with formal PME? Grab a book off the CSAF's reading list, and expand your knowledge in the comfort of your own home. How about volunteering to assist with a competitive quarterly or annual board -- either at the unit or higher level? Youwhere you can learn a lot about what other members andhow other career fields do to make the mission happen through these award packages, plusand gain insight into senior leaders' thought processes during the discussions. Overall, tTake the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone -- the learning curve may be steep, but the rewards are great.

As for academic education, it's always a great idea to encourage our military members at all levels to use tuition assistance and the GI Bill to get into the classroom and finish their degree. This has many benefits, especially enhancing public speaking, writing and social capabilities inherited through gaining a classical education form the general requirements of a degree plan regardless of the major. Far too often, we see enlisted members leave the service who never completed their undergraduate degree and, despite having years of training and supervisory experience, are unable to get the job they want in the civilian sector due to having limited or no college education.

While Mmany leave with a Community College of the Air Force degree, but again, they are passed over for someone who went the distance. Remember, ahas a four-year degree doesn't represent someone who's smarter or better, it simply shows you're able to commit to and complete complex long-term goals. This translates into a silent potential the employer so strongly desires. Remember, if it was easy, everyone would have one. Get into the classroom or online, the benefits will last a lifetime.

Our military culture embraces the commitment to learn, and while it often disrupts our daily routine, it ensures we are prepared to face future challenges -- whether it's a decision in combat or in a conference room. We are expected to continue learning and to step outside our comfort zones in order to grow into broadly-experienced leaders; just as Airman Leadership School, the noncommissioned officer and the senior NCO academies taught us. Future promotions will most likely hinge on many of these traits.; this is why special duty billets are so often rewarded on senior and chief master sergeant selection boards. We shouldn't shy away from training and education opportunities for the future leaders of our Air Force. And while these opportunities are sometimes met with resistance or the ever favorite non-verbal gestures, we need to give our Airmen a little push to benefit and grow from those good ol' opportunities to excel.