MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Air University’s Air Force Officer Training School graduated its largest class ever as more than 340 new officers tossed their hats into the air March 15, 2019, celebrating their completion of the program.
The increased size of the class was a result of a paradigm shift the schoolhouse implemented at the beginning of 2018, pivoting away from separate programs for line and non-line officers and conducting merged classes.
Classes 19-03 and 19-04 were the first to complete this revamped program, providing the first opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of the integrated training.
“While we were confident of the approach, there are always questions about unexpected second- and third-order effects until you have students in the classrooms,” said Lt. Col. Erick Saks, 24th Training Squadron commander at OTS. “Fortunately, we saw very minimal negative impact. If anything, the impact has been significantly more positive than anticipated.”
Prior to the combined course, line and non-line officer trainees were provided nearly identical material, but never had the opportunity to interact. This integration, he said, has only added more diversity to what already made OTS stand out compared to other officer accessioning programs.
“If you look at the other commissioning sources, like the Air Force Academy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, you see far fewer prior enlisted Airmen,” Saks said. “They also have a very minimal number of trainees with significant civilian work experience. Our trainees already have their college degrees, and many of them have been working in the civilian sector prior to deciding to join the Air Force. This latest addition of medical officers, lawyers and chaplains to the line program only adds more background diversity and improves learning. It’s going to build a better, stronger Air Force because we’re building relationships between line and non-line officers from the very beginning.”
Saks isn’t the only one who thinks this has been beneficial. Graduates of Class 19-04 also highlighted how their experiences in this merged class has been invaluable to their professional military education.
“I gained a lot more respect for those individuals who already had rank coming in,” said 2nd Lt. Heather Veldhouse, OTS Class 19-04 graduate. “Even though I've been through Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy, and I've had those opportunities to interact with others, I haven't lived with them and done everything with them every day for two to three months. I certainly learned a lot more about myself and my peers as a whole across the Air Force than I think I would have just being with other individuals like myself.”
While Class 19-04 is currently the largest class to graduate from OTS, Saks said that will most likely be a short-lived title, as upcoming classes are projected to be even larger.