Lorenz on Leadership: The continuum of training

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
I believe we should work our boss's boss's problems. I have found that if we see the bigger picture -- if we understand the larger context of our challenges -- we will make better decisions.

Since assuming command of Air Education and Training Command, I have been trying to understand where our challenges fit in the bigger picture.
My boss, of course, is our chief of staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, and his boss is Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley. Together, they are responsible for organizing, training, and equipping the Air Force. 

They need AETC to provide Airmen of character and skill who can contribute on their first day in the larger Air Force. That is why we say that AETC develops Airmen today -- for tomorrow. 

In the First Command, we recruit Airmen, give them their initial training, and send them to advanced schools. I call this process the continuum of training for our Airmen. 

While an Airman may go through several different training programs before attaining "mission ready" status, each of these programs should work together in a continuum -- a coherent and consistent progression of training that leads to the ultimate goal of forging Airmen of character and skill. 

Each of us has a role to play in this process. It is natural that we focus our efforts on making our individual portion of the continuum as good as it can be, but we cannot fall into the trap of viewing our individual roles in isolation. This is a team effort. If we understand where we fit into the continuum, we can make better decisions and produce better Airmen. 

Much like a relay race, we run as hard as we can when it is our turn, then we hand off our Airmen to the next set of instructors much like a runner hands off the baton to the next teammate. 

While our portion is over, our race is not complete until the last runner carries the baton across the finish line. In AETC, our race is not finished until we deliver the Airman to the gaining command, and it takes each of us doing our part to make this happen. 

In some ways, AETC is a factory that produces more than 200 different types of trained Airmen. We take raw material -- the recruit -- and change him or her into an Airman capable of defending the nation. The "assembly line" begins with the recruiter who finds and delivers the raw material to the factory. 

Along the line, instructors mold and shape each Airman, then they send them down the line to the next instructor. It is vital that the recruiter finds quality recruits, and each instructor must do their best to ensure an Airman with the right character and skill is sent to the next program. 

If they don't, future instructors will have to correct the mistake, or worse, take the Airman off the assembly line. Of course, our Airmen are much more important than objects on an assembly line, but this metaphor shows us how problems develop when we fail to ensure the quality of our people during the short time we have them. 

While the quality of each individual Airman is important, producing the necessary quantity of Airmen is critical as well. We must deliver the right number of Airmen at the right time. If we don't, the consequence is that some career fields become dangerously undermanned, and the mission suffers. 

This is why we strive to create a "smooth flow" of Airmen through the training programs. Much like a pipeline, it is important to keep Airmen flowing through the training programs at the proper rate. Gaps and backups in the pipeline mean two things, and both are bad. First, our individual Airmen have to endure unnecessary breaks in training, and their skills inevitably atrophy. 

Second, the pipeline cannot deliver the right flow of Airmen to the Air Force. This is why it is so important that our commanders and instructors manage the flow of Airmen through their individual training programs while ensuring each Airman meets the standards. 

In AETC, we solve problems for the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force. They are responsible for building a healthy Air Force, and they need a steady flow of trained Airmen. 

Our job is to recognize the big picture -- that we conduct a continuum of training for each Airman -- and make decisions accordingly. We are a team, and our job is not finished until we deliver Airmen of character and skill to their new commanders. 

We produce Airmen of the highest quality, which is why our recruiters work so hard to find the right people and our instructors pour their hearts and souls into their students. At the same time, we produce the right quantity of Airmen to keep the Air Force healthy. 

I ask you to consider where you stand in the continuum of training. When you have a tough decision to make, use this larger perspective to make it. Work your boss's boss's problems, and you will have few problems of your own.

More importantly, our Air Force, and our nation, will be stronger when you do.