We Train Like We Fight

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sadia Heil / Pacific Islander and Asian American Community Team
  • Airman Magazine

We train like we fight. It’s a saying most have heard since their earliest days in the service. As Airmen in the world’s greatest Air Force, we train with precision, intensity, and adherence to excellence.

Recently, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass posted a video on her Facebook account stating, “Sometimes all it takes is one voice speaking up,” after an Airman told her commander she felt alienated by the Force Protection computer-based training.

While completing annual training, Senior Airman Gabrielle DeQuire, 17th Operational Weather Squadron weather journeyman, noticed the preponderance of incidents cited in the training depicted examples of “Muslim extremists” and “Islamic terrorists.” Eighteen of the 25 historical incidents mentioned Muslims directly or indirectly. After the Pacific Islander and Asian American Community Team (PACT), a Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group, overcame significant bureaucratic hurdles, biased portions of the training were removed. What began as a concern for one Airman transformed education and training across the Air Force.

Why does this matter? If “we train like we fight,” training and education must adapt to meet today’s threats. In a message for the force, Bass said, “The strength of our force, our people, remains unmatched; however, our adversaries seek to challenge that. In order to outpace emerging threats, we must deliberately develop our Airmen to ensure they remain our strongest competitive advantage.” Inclusive and accurate training better postures our troops to defend our homeland, deter strategic attacks and aggression and build a resilient Joint Force.

Within the Joint Force, the Air Force leads the way in promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, or DEIA. Women’s hair standards have evolved, Airmen can include pronouns in their signature block, and now, education and training reflect an accurate threat picture and a more inclusive environment.

By removing instances that perpetuate implicit bias and aligning with National Security Strategy guidance, Force Protection training is one example in the greater context of Air Force education and training that furthers DEIA. Additionally, the United States Air Force Academy and Air Education and Training Command have taken deliberate actions focused on diversity and inclusion for recruits, cadets, service members, and civilians.


U.S. Air Force Academy

The U.S. Air Force Academy 2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan established the framework “to recruit, develop, retain and sustain students, faculty, staff, and Airmen/Guardians that value diversity and lead inclusively.” Efforts to promote diversity at the Academy include bolstering rated diversity for cadets as they commission and enter active duty; increasing the diversity of students pursuing engineering majors; supporting cadet affinity and culture clubs focused on diverse identities; and mitigating barriers to student, faculty, staff, and Airmen and Guardian retention across identity groups.
Academy appointees entering basic cadet training have experienced this framework since their first day at the institution this summer, as cadet training cadre maximized opportunities to set the foundation for inclusive leadership. “It is of utmost importance our cadet cadre is properly trained to teach and show what diversity and inclusion in our Air Force and Space Force looks like,” said Cadet 1st Class Emily Reeves, basic cadet training group commander. “We spent time during cadre training honing in on critical conversations, such as making period products accessible and honoring self-identity. Ultimately, we want the Class of 2026 to enter the cadet wing as open-minded individuals able to hear other perspectives and not shy away from challenging conversations as they develop into Air Force leaders.”
The Academy also stood up a Women’s Initiatives Team, or WIT, in 2021, the first established base-level WIT. Through this installation barrier analysis working group, cadets and permanent party identify and dismantle policy barriers to diversity and inclusion through data-driven research. For example, the Academy WIT championed efforts to remove cadet dependency prohibitions across military service academies.

This resulted in clarifying and improving training and commissioning policies for cadets who are pregnant or who father children, thus bolstering the recruitment and retention of diverse military service members. “The WIT works to empower cadets and permanent party alike to realize that we can change military institutions from within,” said Major Kelly Atkinson,  Academy WIT founder. “By learning now that they are all change agents, cadets are already accelerating change and making our institutions more inclusive. This way, the Academy educates and trains strategic, thoughtful leaders who embrace their diversity as a strategic advantage.”
One proven cadet initiative in 2021 focused on establishing a diversity and inclusion cadet leadership position within each cadet squadron. Diversity and inclusion cadets provide tailored training to their cadet squadrons, fostering inclusive leadership and diverse perspectives and serving as a direct link to Academy senior leaders to elevate issues and advance equity across the chain of command.

“This program is an opportunity for invaluable education on how we can best respect and include our fellow Air and Space Force members,” said Cadet 1st Class Xander Carey, cadet group two diversity and inclusion officer. “We all signed the dotted line and swore to defend our country, and we all deserve the opportunity to do this to the best of our ability in an environment that is inclusive and respectful.”
These efforts reinforce the Academy’s mission to produce leaders of character while empowering a diverse officer corps ready to engage in the strategic challenges of future conflict.


Air Education and Training Command

Within the realm of recruiting, the Air Force Recruiting Service and Air University — home to the Reserve Officer Training Corps headquarters — have increased efforts to mentor, educate, and provide development opportunities for underrepresented populations.

Since the summer of 2020, greater efforts have been made to recruit at and around Historically Black Colleges, or HBCUs, and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, including offering scholarships to potential students that demonstrate leadership ability, aviation competencies, a propensity to serve in the military, and an interest in attending an HBCU.

AFRS Detachment 1 has implemented several programs to facilitate outreach and strengthen diversity in rated career fields in the Air Force. These include Aviation Inspiration Mentorship, designed to inform, influence and inspire the next generation of aviators; the Aim High Flight Academy, a STEM-based, aviation-focused motivation and mentorship program designed to increase diversity in the aviation career field; and GO Inspire, a program for Air and Space Force generals to engage youth and youth influencers from underrepresented groups across the nation.

Additionally, the Hispanic Empowerment and Advancement Team, or HEAT — a Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group, advocated for Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, or AFOQT, modernization to achieve equitable standards for officer candidates who speak English as a second language. Consequently, this increased opportunities for all officer candidates to use their highest AFOQT composite scores to qualify for commission. The HEAT’s efforts complemented AETC’s Air Force Pilot Selection Process Working Group, collaborating on changes implemented to eliminate barriers for qualified candidates while maintaining standards of excellence.

Furthermore, to assist qualified Airmen already serving and interested in cross-training to a rated career field, AETC runs the Air Force Rated Prep Program. Participants receive self-paced ground training, approximately eight flight hours in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182 Skylane, and additional training in Federal Aviation Administration-certified simulators to help raise AFOQT and Test of Basic Aviation Skills scores and become more competitive for rated selection boards. Increasing diversity in rated career fields will ultimately produce a broader range of candidates for senior leadership opportunities in the Air Force.

Diverse service members are an asymmetric advantage the Joint Force has to achieve mission success in today’s era of strategic competition with China and Russia. Understanding this, senior leaders across the Air Force have made space to connect with Airmen by having authentic conversations.

An example of these efforts is former AETC commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, who hosted “Real Talk” conversations about race and diversity with Airmen. Dialogues like this — and initiatives to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the education and training domain reflect a climate of inclusive leadership.
Holding space for these conversations aligns with the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s  intent: “The challenges we face today are far too serious, and the implications far too great, for our Air Force to do less than fully leverage our nation’s greatest strength — our remarkably diverse Airmen.”

As Air Force education and training evolves to meet the threats of today and tomorrow, it can also serve as a model for the Joint Force. Once the Air Force updated women’s hair standards — the Navy, Army, and Coast Guard followed suit. Similarly, now is an opportune time for other services to take a deeper look into their respective training and education policies as the next logical step to cultivating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. “We train like we fight” applies to the Joint Force, too.