MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Squadrons are the “beating heart of the Air Force,” said the chief of staff of the Air Force soon after taking office in 2016, identifying the need to revitalize squadrons as one of his primary focus areas. Every heart, though, needs something to make it beat.
The beat of every squadron are its flights, and the flights’ leaders are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of their organizations.
To prepare company grade officers to advance into flight leadership positions at most wings across the Air Force, the standard developmental opportunity is typically a localized Flight Commander Course.
“I view flights as the first leadership crucible where a majority of our young Air Force officers of all backgrounds are exposed to leading Airmen, and it’s the building block to future squadron leadership,” said Col. Eric Shafa, commander of the 42nd Air Base Wing.
The colonel, however, felt that a typical Flight Commander Course came up a bit short in the developmental opportunities for the other two-thirds of a flight’s leadership structure: senior noncommissioned officers and civilians.
“While a localized Flight Commander Course is helpful in providing information that prepares company grade officers for flight leadership, we realized in our current Air Force environment it only gets after about a third of the leadership demographic,” he said.
To help prepare Airmen of “all stripes” lead flights in their respective capacities, Maxwell started the Flight Leader Course, a two-day course that immerses officers, senior NCOs and civilians in the intricacies of flight management and leadership.
The first Flight Leader Course was held in June with a mixed class of officers, senior NCOs and civilians from across the wing’s organizations and mission partners.
One of the enlisted students felt the course met squarely with the chief of staff’s goal of revitalizing squadrons and benefited from the mixture of officers, enlisted and civilians.
“Absolutely,” said Master Sgt. Rebecca Stanford, the operations superintendent for the Air Force Career Development Academy at the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. “Even though it lasted only a few days, we were able to discuss challenges faced, how we dealt with them and scored many great perspectives on effective leadership.”
Stanford added that the course material was “very relevant in today’s Air Force” and helped in bridging a gap of communication between officers, enlisted and civilians, enabling them to learn from each other’s experiences and challenges.
Course curricula included officer and enlisted promotions and career progression, civilian personnel system, readiness tools for taking care of Airmen and their families, legal briefings, discipline and senior officer and enlisted leader panel discussions.
The covered topics proved to be a valuable resource for a civilian student and will help her should she need to step into her commander’s shoes.
“It provided insight into how Airmen are supervised, rated, disciplined, and most importantly, rewarded for their great service to our country,” said Veronica Brooks, an acquisition program manager for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. “The course also provided me with information that I can use to mentor any Airman, or at least point him or her in the right direction to find the assistance they need.”
The course, for one officer, helped amplify Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein’s message that squadron leaders “have the most profound and lasting impact on Airmen and families.”
“Flight leaders are a part of that squadron-level team who help develop, train and build Airmen, so it’s important to continuously go out and professionally develop ourselves so we have the tools and knowledge to assist our Airmen,” said Capt. Shonta Smith, the chief of the commander support staff at the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education.
The idea for a combined ranks course came from Air War College, said Shafa. Last academic year, Air University integrated a select group of chief master sergeants into Air War College.
“After seeing what Air University did, along with the Air Force’s priority on revitalizing the squadron, I was intrigued at the possibility of creating and implementing a single flight leader course at the wing level that would not only contribute to this effort, but also meet the professional development demands of our company grade officers, as well as our civilian and enlisted leaders,” he said.
The colonel added, "Based on the positive feedback and success from the inaugural class, this course has the potential to have broader applications Air Force wide as a model for helping develop future squadron leaders."
The course was developed by the 42nd Force Support Squadron’s Force Development Flight. The next class is slated for November 2017.