Developing our future force

Gen. Edward A. Rice, Commander, Air Education & Training Command

Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., Commander, Air Education and Training Command

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It has been almost six months since Teresa and I arrived at Air Education and Training Command. Since that time, we have traveled to a number of our AETC bases. Simply put, we are very impressed with the men and women throughout the command executing our mission.

The breadth of our responsibility to recruit Airmen as well as to educate and train Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and our international partners cannot be truly appreciated until you have witnessed our team in action.

Thank you for your dedication and service to our Air Force and the nation. The diligence and professionalism you exhibit daily accomplishing the AETC mission is no small feat; having witnessed firsthand the motivation you display recruiting, training and educating our number one resource, people, is an eye-watering experience.

AETC's mission is critical, as we ensure our "trainees," all volunteers from our nation's youth representing the next generation of Air Force leaders, are instilled with the skills and knowledge needed to provide for our nation's defense. But, we must do more than just give them the best tools and resources to tackle future challenges.

We are also charged with teaching them how to learn and think. Why is this important? We live in an ever changing and dynamic world. In order to succeed in a complex environment, we must have the ability to adapt quickly to change. If we don't, we will lose our competitive advantage.

Our nation requires "Thinking Airmen" -- Airmen that can define the right question and have the ability to develop executable courses of action. We enable the development of the future force so they will be prepared to lead and tackle the opportunities and challenges they will undoubtedly encounter.

The continuum of learning is built upon three pillars: training, experience and education.
Training our forces in their specific job is a disciplined, standardized approach ensuring our Airmen can follow established procedures -- rules, guidelines, technical orders, checklists, etc. -- to accomplish a specific mission or task. To me, training is a very valuable and necessary development tool ensuring the job is done safely, securely and correctly.

As our trained forces work in their technical specialty, they build upon the second pillar -- experience. Experience is invaluable and is constantly honed by the mentorship and grooming of peers and supervisors. Airmen rely on training and experience to master their technical field; but it is the third pillar, our educational programs, that make our Airmen the best in the world.

Our Air Force prides itself on having a highly educated force and our service culture has always relied heavily on intellectual capital. Education, when coupled with training and experience, serves as a force multiplier. Education enhances critical thinking skills and empowers individuals to ask thoughtful questions that search for root causes and solutions.

In a world in which the pace of change is arguably greater than it has ever been in human history, education is ever important. How we teach our Airmen to learn is often more critical than what we train them to do. Therefore, we must pursue an approach to development that places increased emphasis on education and critical thinking.

The Air Force and the First Command are facing challenging times. While we must continue to train and educate, we must find ways to continue producing exceptional Airmen with fewer resources.

There are multiple drills underway helping to create decision space regarding how we develop our future force. We need new models and frameworks to balance resources, requirements and risk. Relying on our training, experiences and education, we will find the answers.

And despite all the challenges that we face and the uncertainties of the future, I am certain of one thing -- the confidence I have in the abilities that each of you brings and the key role you have in the development of future generations of warrior leaders.

Each of you is a valuable member of a skilled team, transforming the youth of our society, those who have volunteered to defend the ideals and freedoms we all enjoy. You can take immense pride as you develop them; educating and training them into future leaders ready to tackle the unknown.

We continue to shape our legacy, a legacy of developing future leaders not just for today, but for tomorrow.