Located at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, SOC is the Air Force’s center for company grade officer professional development. The College fulfills this role by educating and mentoring its students during the most crucial period of their development; their early, formative years as current and future airpower leaders. (submitted art)
Think Tank elective added to SOS

by Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship?
Air University Public Affairs

2/27/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- Squadron Officer School has a new elective designed to give its students a voice in major issues affecting today's Air Force.

In January, the school added the Think Tank elective to its curriculum, challenging its students to focus on discovering solutions to significant issues across the service.

"This elective falls right in line with and enhances our objective of preparing senior leaders of tomorrow," said Col. Mark Czelusta, SOS commandant and Squadron Officer College commander. "These officers are the future of our Air Force, and they will need to be prepared to think of innovative approaches to the challenges of both today and tomorrow."

The elective is intended to augment partnerships with the Air Force Research Institute, the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies and the Air Force Center for Strategy and Technology.

"One of the benefits of the elective is the relationships garnered with these organizations on base, creating added effect and providing the students with perspectives they normally wouldn't have," said Maj. James Bartran, assistant director of operations, 36th Student Squadron, SOS.

During the eight-week elective, students research a topic selected by Air University leadership about an Air Force issue. Their work is presented weekly.

"The goal of the class is to provide deliverable information outside of our organization to senior leadership," said Bartran. "They brief the Air University commander and president [Lt. Gen. David Fadok] about the issue, presenting some of the things they are seeing as company grade officers."

Although conducting research may not be appealing for some, having the opportunity to brief senior leadership on their research and opinions could be a major draw for students to take the elective.

"When I was told about the class, I wanted to be a part of it because it seemed like an interesting challenge," said SOS student Capt. Ben Hazen. "We were told that we would work with the PhD's on staff to research an interesting topic and be able to present our ideas to senior leaders and even possibly publish our findings. It really sounded like a cool experience for a captain."

To be approved for the elective, student applicants must submit an essay for review by some of AU's military and civilian faculty.

"The idea is to challenge them to adapt and react quickly as they will be expected to do as they further their careers," said Bartran. "I give them the topic on the first day, and the essay is due the next morning."

If selected for the course, students will complete 14 hours of working group and senior leader presentations.

"We are looking for dynamic thought," said Bartran. "We want perspective thoughts that are new and outside the box. They aren't necessarily going to solve the problem, but give perspectives, from a company grade officer, which maybe weren't thought of before."

The inaugural class presented its research topic on developmental professional military education to Fadok at the end of February.

"As the class concludes, I have learned quite a bit about staff work and research from an Air Force perspective," said Hazen. "I have done a lot of academic research in the past, but this was surely different. It was interesting to learn how senior leaders make decisions and what kind of leg work is involved in getting them the right information to make such decisions."

For Bartran, just the fact that senior leadership will be presented with some of the ideas the students come up with is an exciting prospect.

"We had assignments in the past where students developed great ideas, but they never went anywhere," he said. "We are extremely excited that we have an opportunity to take what these students come up with and send it up the chain in a systematic way so that senior leaders can see it. They don't have to act on it, but if there is one nugget of information that they get out of it that may push further investigation or thought from their staffs, then we have done our duty."

The class offers more than just a chance to have ideas heard. Students are exposed to an area of the Air Force that few experience and will be able to apply throughout their careers.

"This class will continue to help my career both in the Air Force and as an academic," said Hazen. "By doing all of the extra reading and research in the area of military professional development and education, I've expanded my horizons, and I think I've found a new area in which I'd like to be more involved."