SOS, SNCOA take part in combined operations
Courtesy Photo
SOS, SNCOA take part in combined operations

by Lt. Col. Eugene M. Croft
Squadron Officer College

3/9/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The new Squadron Officer School program includes "combined operations," a two-day, immersive-learning event where students from SOS and the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy share experiences, insights and learn from one another.

It has been well-received by both the SOS and SNCOA students. "This combined ops experience has been the most beneficial part up to this point in our SNCOA training," said Master Sgt. Matthew Poole of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

During combined operations, students from the two schools formed 20-member flights comprised half of officers and half of noncommissioned officers. They participated in focused guided discussions, tackled experiential problem-solving activities and challenged their cross-cultural competence in the cultural leadership exercise.

The classroom sessions are primarily focused on helping students grasp unique differences between rank and promotion structures. However, students also grappled with the complexities of professional relations between commissioned and noncommissioned Airmen. In classes on enlisted performance reports, leadership, counseling and mentoring, officers benefited from the experience and insights offered by enlisted flightmates, learning not just how to support enlisted subordinates but why some types of support are more effective and appreciated than others.

Together they learned about motivations and how officer and enlisted corps differ. In the professional-relations discussions, the students spoke frankly about what they expect from each other and the potential impact unprofessional relationships can have on unit morale, good order and discipline.

They interacted in activities specifically designed to challenge students to work together to achieve shared goals. Project X, a mainstay of SOS activities, proved its value as a challenging leadership development laboratory, testing teams' ability to succeed despite demanding events.

Students received very little information, a few rudimentary tools and very tight timelines to complete a series of tasks. At the completion of Project X, the students reflected on lessons they learned and ways to apply lessons to challenges they face at home stations.

The students felt the sessions underscored the need for strong leadership, dedicated followership, effective communications - to include both conveying directions and listening to input - and out-of-the-box problem-solving to overcome challenges. They also lauded the emphasis on teamwork and shared responsibility.

Another portion of combined operations, the cultural leadership exercise, was created by the Squadron Officer College in conjunction with the Air Force Culture and Language Center to increase students' cross-cultural competence and negotiation skills.

In the exercise, students traveled together into a simulated nation to negotiate with role-playing villagers representing a fictitious culture. The students had to remain sensitive to the culture of their hosts, adhere to mission requirements and Air Force standards of behavior, all the while negotiating for the villagers' permission to build a water-treatment plant nearby.

The simulated village complex, featuring contracted role players from a variety of cultural backgrounds, provided a realistic, immersive experience for the students. This level of realism, however, has proven vital to the continuing success of the exercise, allowing SOS to exceed its learning requirements in vital areas of study.

The sessions made an impact. "Junior-enlisted Airmen want to see their leadership united, and this course sets the standard for leaders to work together to accomplish the mission," said Master Sgt. Aaron Marley from Hanscom AFB, Mass.

"Combined PME ventures are priceless," said Capt. Nicholas Motlagh from Vance AFB, Okla., noting he wanted more opportunities like this. Squadron Officer School and Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy students negotiate with villagers in a cultural leadership exercise in February. This exercise is one of the combined operations that blended the learning experiences of commissioned and noncommissioned officers, providing a new format for student growth.