Col. Jeff Pixley: The Evolution of BMT

  • Published
  • By Tyler Prince
  • Airman Magazine


In an interview with Airman magazine, Col. Jeff Pixley, commander of the 737th Training Group, discusses the ever-evolving training environment at basic military training in San Antonio, Texas.


Airman Magazine:
The first thing I’d like to get you to do is talk to me a little bit about your scope of responsibility as the commander of the 737th Training Group.
Col. Jeff Pixley:
You bet. So, as the Commander of the 737th Training Group, which oversees Air Force basic military training, I'm responsible for not only my group staff but for 10 squadrons. Nine of which are active-duty squadrons, one of which is a partner squadron from the Air Force Reserve, the 433rd Training Squadron. Altogether they make up almost 1,000 active duty and reserve personnel, plus the up to 6,000 trainees that are on the ground any given day at BMT. So, it's a fairly large organization with a pretty amazing mission.
Airman Magazine:
Is this a job that you sought out, or is it something that just sort of fell into your lap?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
Oh, it's absolutely something I sought out. I got extremely lucky in 2012. I was stationed over at Randolph Air Force Base on their side of town, and I ran into the wing commander for the 37th Training Wing, which is the parent wing for the 737th Training Group.
I introduced myself and asked the commander what it took to be a squadron commander at basic military training. I asked that question because BMT had been in the news at the time, and, as a prior-enlisted guy, it piqued my interest.
I asked him what it took to be a BMT commander, and he offered me a job as a director of operations on the spot, which surprised me. I came to my senses and accepted the job offer, and spent six months as a director of operations during a really important time in BMT in 2013. I absolutely fell in love with the mission.     
Every day over those six months was a blessing and helped me appreciate the value of this organization and what it means to be a leader here, and how challenging it is to serve here. So, when I went back to flying six months later, I was shameless. I told my boss I want to go back to BMT. That's where I belong.
I got really lucky and came back as a squadron commander. I spent two years as a squadron commander here from 2014 to 2016, and they were the best two years of my career.
When I left, every boss I've had since then said, “What do you want to do with your life?” I've said the same thing. “I want to go back and lead the 737th Training Group.” The stars aligned, and in 2021, I got stationed here. It's been amazing.

Airman Magazine:
I'm not sure how common it is to have someone who leads the 737th to be prior enlisted. How has basic training changed since you came through here?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
It's changed a lot, but the thing that comes to most people's mind when you ask about (what’s changed at) BMT, is the length of BMT.
When I went through back in the 1900s, it was six weeks long. It's been as long as eight-and-a-half weeks. Right now, we're a seven-and-a-half-week program, but the length of BMT isn't really what matters. It's what we do with that time, however much time we have with our trainees. So, the big changes that matter most are what we do while we’re here.
Another big change with basic training (in) the last 30 years since I came through was that all the military training instructors were volunteers. The entire force was made up of folks who had asked to come here.
Since then, we've adopted what's called the Developmental Special Duty model. Now, military training instructor candidates are nominated by their wing commanders and their command chiefs at their home units from across the Air Force – all AFSCs. They nominate them based on their exceptional performance as noncommissioned officers and as leaders with the potential to come (to) do this really difficult job. We bring those folks here, and we train them up to be military training instructors.
That's a big deal because prior when folks were all volunteers, everybody wanted to be here. With this nominative process, the DSD process, there are actually some folks that are resistant to coming here. They may not see themselves as military training instructors remembering their own time in BMT. And think, “I don't fit that model.”
What I’ve found is that even the folks that are hesitant to come here because they may not see themselves as MTIs, once they get here, they have the same experience that I had when I came here in 2013. They fall in love with the mission. They realize what an amazing challenge it is. It's certainly a hard job to do, but when you see how important it is and what a difference each individual can make here in BMT, people fall in love with it.
The makeup of our MTI corps is more diverse than it used to be. The percentage of folks from across different AFSCs is a better representation of the Air Force. We have this amazing opportunity to expose every one of our Airmen to someone from a career field that they may be headed into. It's just a phenomenal organization in that respect.
The last thing that I think has changed a lot since I came through is our focus on the future fight.
In 1990, when I came here, the first Gulf War hadn't started yet. The previous 10 years were a decade of relative peace in the United States of America. The Airmen that we got here yesterday don't remember a time when our nation wasn't at war somewhere in the world. So, when they come here, they have a mindset about the difficult challenges that lie ahead.
BMT today has to think about the future fight because, unlike in 1990, where we could focus on the internal process of creating an Airman and teaching the core values or building the military discipline that matters, today, we owe our Airmen an explanation of the world they're stepping in to. We owe them preparation to be successful in a really challenging environment. It’s an environment, honestly, that nobody that's currently serving has ever experienced before. That future mindset on tomorrow's fight is something that's much different than what I remember from basic training.
Airman Magazine:
So, we talked a little bit about how BMT has changed from when you went through (it). What would you say is your vision of the future of basic military training?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
The BMT of tomorrow is one that is ready for change.
This organization, as huge as it is and being part of what we call the pipeline from recruiting through basic training and on to tech school, has a reputation for being a giant machine.
Getting 6,000 people in the right place at the right time to (the) chow hall, drill pads, (and) graduation ceremonies, requires a kind of mechanical approach to basic military training.
While COVID was tragic for BMT and a huge challenge, it challenged us to break the assumption that this machine had to be preserved at all costs and that changing it was not worth the effort. We were forced to rethink that.
The changes we instituted to survive COVID are changes that not only showed us better ways of doing business but it proved to us that we could be adaptable within basic training. We didn't have to shut down the machine in order to change it.
My future BMT is one where we are mechanical where we need to be, just for practical reasons, but we innovate to make our training process better. We must innovate to provide a better environment for our military training instructors, (and) for their families and to provide a place where every person that is assigned to BMT, whether it's a basic trainee or a member of my staff, is grown and developed while they're here.
Because of the way we're arranged now here in BMT with each one of the squadrons in a single week of training, which is a huge deal for the mechanical nature of BMT, each one of the eight squadrons can operate a beta test on an initiative that, in the past, would have been a catastrophic interruption to the machine.
Now I can pick a squadron and say, “Why don't we try this?” If we have an initiative about resiliency, or we want to talk about a different approach to something we've been doing for years one way, let's try it a different way. I can give it to a squadron and say, “Test it out and come see me after graduation and tell me how it worked. If it's a good idea, we can spread it across BMT.”
The future of BMT is one where we continually find ways to take advantage of that new maneuver space that we didn't have in the past.

Airman Magazine:
I know when I came through basic, in my squadron, every flight was in a different week. It sounds like it makes things a little easier, and maybe it gives MTIs a better sense of when they’re going to get a break.
 Col. Jeff Pixley:
Absolutely. You've hit on two things.
The predictability of the schedule is a huge win for the way we do business now. But an interesting point is that it makes some things, like innovation, easier.
If you recall, the chaos of your first days in basic training, with only a couple of flights in Zero Week, was confined to a portion of the squadron. You had built-in relief, built-in downtime and actually built-in help with senior flights. You may recall that (on) your first night or two in basic training, somebody from a senior flight came in, and they performed entry controller duties for you.
Now, the entire squadron is the same week, so Zero Week is pretty chaotic.
The challenges of controlling that chaos when you have 600 people who are brand new to BMT, withall the issues that come with just the stress of the first couple of days – trainees who are homesick and have decided they don't want to be here – that's concentrated in the squadron. While that provides some latitude elsewhere in the organization, it really puts a strain on the squadron and the military training instructors.
So, the intensity level of the squadron – I’m not talking about the MTI knife-handing intensity, I'm talking about just the intensity of the environment – ramps up very quickly. That's paid off on the backside when the whole squadron is in the sixth or seventh week of training. When it kind of slows down and there are opportunities for breaks, the whole squadron is ready for it.
Another practical reason that this is better is, back in the day, a squadron was never not in training. Now, because we're going to graduate trainees tomorrow, on Friday, they're going to ship, and then that squadron is going to be empty; nobody needs to be at work Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Four times a year, we have non-session weeks, which means that (the) squadron gets those three days plus an entire week off. I can show on a piece of paper today that this week in 2023, you're going to be down. Plan your leave. Plan to have the building fumigated, or have the civil engineering come in and do a major project, things like that. So, predictability is huge. It's a win. It's not easier, but it is better.
Airman Magazine:
Something that (Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S.) Bass is constantly talking about building the Airmen of 2030 today. You’ve talked about it a little bit already, but how is BMT evolving to meet that requirement?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
Well, the first thing I would say is getting trainees to see the bigger picture is a really important part of basic training.
My memory may be fuzzy, but I don't remember BMT being focused outside of getting to the next meal period, right? Getting through basic training was the goal of basic training, in my experience.
Today, we need trainees to see the bigger picture for the reasons I talked about before. There are dynamic things happening in the world. The challenges that are going to be thrown at these Airmen immediately are pretty massive.
Seeing the bigger picture early about the world, the dangers, the threats, and the challenges that they're about to face are important. Not just because I want them to be ready for war; I don't need that.
What I need is for them to make that mental shift that what they’re doing is important, and the challenges that are being thrown at them here in basic training, they mean something because they're going to prepare them to be more successful.
So, you remember from your basic training experience that we spent a lot of time finding ways to take things that we must do at BMT and say, “e do this because it teaches the core value of excellence in all we do” – that hospital corner being perfect – or that drill and ceremonies are about teamwork. Getting our Airmen and our specialists to leave here ready to be successful in the Air Force.
We don't have to only focus on those things that are metaphors for the outside world. There are real challenges in our country and around the world right now that we can challenge here; being a good wingman and teammate, interpersonal skills, personal resilience, team resilience, looking out for one another and tackling challenges as a team. Those are all things that they're going to have to do out there in the Air Force. If I can get them to understand that here, at BMT, we're not teaching them to roll socks, just to roll socks. We're not teaching them to do hospital corners because that matters later; they're never going to do that again. What I'm doing is asking them to do things that I think are going to benefit them later.
When it comes to teamwork, discipline, interpersonal skills, diversity and inclusion, all those things that are the soft skills here, we don't have to pretend it's something else. We just tell them that's what it is.
You're going to be successful as an Airman or specialist because you've been armed with those things here, and you get this amazing opportunity here in a controlled environment with close supervision and direct oversight by military training instructors and our team to say, “Hey, you know, you can do that better.”
Airman Magazine:
Are the 10 Airman leadership qualities being brought into the curriculum?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
I don't know that they were brought into the curriculum, but there is nothing foreign in the 10  leadership qualities of BMT. All those things have always been baked into how we do business.
So, job proficiency, right? Job proficiency is something that we begin here at BMT. We get someone a very simple job that's objectively measurable, and we say, “Do this.” And to have a high job performance in that specific item is something we can measure and give them feedback on. That's baked into the way we do business at BMT.
Adaptability is something that has always been part of BMT. In fact, at its core, BMT is an adaptability exercise. It begins with the individuals being able to adapt to this environment. Can they survive in a place where they are surrounded by strangers, asked to set aside their privacy in many and very serious ways, to operate on a diverse team, maybe in a group that is far more diverse than anything they've ever experienced? That individual adaptability to the military environment is a key portion of getting them over the hump in the first few weeks of training.
At the same time, we're asking them to adapt across BMT while thinking about the future fight. And it begins with the individual job performance and individual ability to adapt.
But as we go through the training weeks in basic training, we are giving them other challenges, team challenges, that they have to adapt to. They have to adapt to the environment of their military training instructors giving them new challenges and their military training instructors swapping out; you have a new leader that you didn't have yesterday. They might have slightly different expectations, which is not unique to BMT. That happens everywhere in the Air Force.
In week six, we surprise them with a deployment out to what we call BEAST (Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training), our field training exercise. We send them out there and ask them to adapt to a new environment. We expect them to uphold all the standards in their behavior and the way they interact with one another and put the skills that we've taught them in garrison to use in a simulated deployed environment.
Not only in more austere conditions but with a different food schedule and the unpredictability of the day-to-day. The people they are working with are different. That adaptability is absolutely baked into basic military training.
The final Airman leadership quality that I think is worth addressing is accountability which comes in many forms across the Air Force. Basic training is really an accountability environment.
It begins with individual accountability from an MTI to a trainee. The model is familiar to anyone who’s been to basic military training.  An MTI tells you what they're going to teach you. They demonstrate it to you. They break it down into its individual components and then they say, now you try. And when a trainee tries, they get feedback. That accountability on that individual performance is something they get here.
The interesting thing is there are continually people who come here and are surprised at the very frank accountability that they receive–and the feedback they get is sometimes unwelcome.
There are people that come here who may never have been told that they weren't the number one in their class. In fact, they may have always been number one in their class. And they come to this amazing deep talent pool at BMTand they're not the top of the heap, or they're being asked to do something in which they’re not already skilled. When they're told that they're not living up to the standard, sometimes they initially take that personally.
We make a great effort to help them understand that accountability is a good thing.
Holding someone accountable for not meeting the standard is a baseline expectation. It's not a personal attack. This is where you need to be to be successful here. I think if we do that religiously and relentlessly here at BMT, not only do you uphold that standard of military discipline that BMT has always been known for, but we're setting up our Airmen and our specialists for success out there in the operational Air Force.
My personal history in the Air Force is that accountability is something that we struggle with outside of the BMT environment. Getting folks to have that hard conversation and say, “Hey, you know, you didn't quite meet my expectations,” is not as common as you would think it is, given that we plant the seed so early here in BMT.
I think that the rest of the Air Force can take some cues from BMT; on how we embrace accountability. We don't take it as a negative, but we do it in a way that's formal and documented. The memory of an MTI knife-handing and telling someone that they're wrong really loudly that's a form of accountability. But more often than not, that is accompanied by a real counseling session that is documented on a piece of paper, with root cause analysis, and how we're going to get better next time; closing the loop.
That kind of accountability is what teaches people it's not a personal failing that's being addressed; it's a shortcoming that we know we have. We have confidence that they have the capability to bounce back. Accountability is just part of what we do here. I think it's a good thing for the Air Force experience.
Airman Magazine:
How has the rollout of the Enlisted Force Development Action Plan impacted BMT and its future?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
The Enlisted Force Development Action Plan couldn't have come at a better time for BMT.
As I mentioned before, we'd just come out of COVID. So, when the senior leadership in the Air Force says it is time to think about that bigger picture, we are talking about investing in our people and preparing them for the increased challenges they're going to face because of their natural progression in the military or because of the natural progression that comes in a time of conflict. So, the timing of it couldn't be better.
It’s forced us to ask hard questions about how we do business here. It's forced us to look at that machine and say, “Is this really the right thing to do?”It forced us to take a look at how we carve out time for our military training instructors; because enlisted force development. BMT is focused on graduating Airmen, but (for) every Air Force specialty that sends their NCOs here, we owe them an NCO on the backside that is a better leader, a better manager, a better communicator; an NCO that is better prepared to lead in their organization.
We crush that every time, but I don't want that to be by accident. I don't want that to be just because we've exposed someone [to BMT]. We're taking a deliberate approach and developing folks that are here in BMT, on our staff, our MTIs, our instructor cadre, because not everybody here in BMT that's an instructor is an MTI, and our officer corps. Everybody here gets an opportunity to grow in this, what some people call, I think rightly, a leadership crucible. This is a place where amazing leadership is honed. 

Airman Magazine:
Basic training is constantly evolving, and it sounds like over the last few years, especially since COVID, that has accelerated. What do you think is one of the most significant ways BMT has evolved?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
I'm glad you asked. I have three, actually. 
One is enhanced integration.
When I went to basic training, my squadron was all male. Everybody on the staff, every trainee, all male.
Two years later, a previous deputy commander I had, went through BMT in 1992, and his flight had an integrated flight.
When I was here in 2016, we had integrated squadrons but no integrated flights. The closest we came was at the end of my last tour on graduation day. We would take the male flights and the female flights, and we'd mix them all together. Then march them down the bomb run pretending that there was an integrated flight. It was an integrated formation, they were marching together, but they hadn't spent the whole eight weeks knowing each other and training together. It was a baby step in the right direction, but it wasn't the whole thing.
So, last year, when we came out of COVID, and it became safe to do things like mixing people unnecessarily, I asked, “OK, how are we going to do this?” We undertook a project to, across BMT, integrate our flights.
The trainees who arrived last night and are arriving right now are being broken up into their integrated flight. Every basic trainee, with very few exceptions, is in a gender-integrated flight. Now, they still sleep in separate dormitories and shower separately, of course, but when they fall out downstairs, those dormitories blend into integrated flights.
When you see the graduation tomorrow, you will see every flight has males and females marching together because they train together, they work together and they're wingmen for each other. And that's not something that's an artificiality. It's something we begin from day one in basic military training because we know that that's how they’re going to train, that's how they’re going to fight, and that's how they're going to live and work everywhere else in the Air Force. There's no reason to not do that here. So, that's a major change.
I bring it up as a major change, not because it looks good on paper. It's the right thing to do, but it's another major change for BMT because it's harder to do that. It is way more complicated for a military training structure team to track down their trainees. They're spread across 44 dormitories instead of just one dormitory.
I've asked a lot of our military training instructors to adapt to this. They've done a masterful job at doing so. but it has come at a cost. It's increased the challenge for them in communication, teamwork; all those things we ask our trainees to do. Now, I'm asking our MTIs to do more, which is harder work, but it's the right thing to do. So, it's a great initiative.
The second thing is every BMT trainee that goes through BMT from here on out will be issued iPads that will be fully fielded, abandoning the hard copy books that we all pretended to read while we were waiting to go into the dining facility.
We're leveraging technology in BMT to take advantage of 21st-century adult learning models; the technology to rapidly change curriculum faster than we could ever before when we had to print a whole new truckload of books to update something simple like the uniform regulation changing.
The innovations with the iPad distribution are something that we don't yet fully understand the implications (of) because we're just now fully fielding it, but I have no doubt in the next year or two, we are going to find efficiencies in our day-to-day schedule because of the iPads.
We're going to be able to target our feedback and our mentoring for our trainees because with the app they use to study, it's not just them reading and taking quizzes. The MTI can remotely view highly-missed questions where people are struggling. Who's studying the most? Who is studying the least, and provide targeted feedback.
We can take a hard look at whether the old way of giving podium instruction – an hour-long  PowerPoint presentation where a trainee follows along in their workbook and just highlights the words that are foot-stomped, turns into a better way of learning (with the iPad); might buy us more time.
If it buys us more time, that may give us an opportunity to introduce additional content we've had to set aside because of limited time. It may provide additional opportunities for other training things that we think are important, but we couldn't squeeze (them) into seven and (a) half weeks. So, it's a huge win for us.
The last one, which is the one I'm most excited about right now, is BEAST.
Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training is one of the last major events that our trainees go through, and that's where we pick them up, and we ship them out to the BEAST site, and we put them in tents, and put them to work.
I'm excited about BEAST 2.0–it doesn't have a new name yet. When I got here in 2021, I looked at BEAST. When I went out to the site and I looked at the feedback from the trainees that had gone through the BEAST, what I saw was us looking backward. It looked like I was at Balad (an air base in Iraq), a tent city somewhere in the Middle East.
What we were doing out there was going through the motions of putting our trainees through something that seemed like a deployment. And to them, it was exciting, right? To the trainees, it was different. It was getting away from our campus (and it) was away from the watchful eye of the MTIs. They're carrying their weapons and wearing their chemical warfare gear, so they felt like it was something different.
But to me, I saw them walking backward in time. When I got here, there was some training happening at the BEAST that, by any measure, should’ve been pre-deployment training, things you do before you deploy. So we’ve moved those out of BEAST, crunching the time down. It used to be four days long, but now it is two days long.
My intent is that we take those two days and fill them with nonstop tests. Not necessarily all you know, such as, “can you take your M4 trainer up and butt-stroke a dummy?” That's important, but that's not what every Airman needs.
What every Airman needs is to demonstrate to themselves that they can go into a simulated deployed environment, have mission-type orders, (and) challenges to face as a team, and be able to adapt to different scenarios.
With the future version of BEAST, my intent is that it's going to feel less like we're going through the motions of sending someone to practice suffering in a tent and eating MREs. Instead, I'm going to have them get there, hit the ground, get in-briefed by the deployed commander, tell them the local rules of engagement and the latest intel update.
We're going to build Airmen-led teams to go out there and tackle challenges in a scenario-driven environment where, by the time it's all over, when the whistle blows and the exercise is complete, they feel like we've taken all of their leadership, interpersonal skills, teamwork, problem-solving, and accountability, and put them to the test for 36 intense hours.
When the whistle blows, they go, “Wow, I feel like we've been through something together.” I'm super excited about that.
I'm really at the limits of what I'm allowed to change without the curriculum people having to get permission from Air Education and Training Command, but we're moving forward on this. Because when we send our Airmen out there for the next fight, it's not going to be like the last fight, it’s going to be a new one. It’s going to be one where they have to be ready to tackle those challenges, think on their feet, be disconnected from the command and control network and make decisions based on (the) commander’s intent.

Airman Magazine:
What kinds of changes have been made to the way that BMT’s curriculum is taught?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
For the longest time in BMT, the MTI was the holder of all knowledge. We gave the MTI the full responsibility of– and this was true when I was here at BMT– the podium instruction and the academic instruction. Everything a trainee needed to know about being successful in the Air Force came from the military training instructors.
If we are going to be adaptable in our curriculum, if we're going to take advantage of the ability to quickly update our curriculum based on new information or new guidance from higher headquarters, the ability for our MTIs to stay at that expert level of understanding and be able to teach at that level is going to get harder and harder to do.
The idea that there are some things that are so specialized that we have an expert to come in and talk about that is a reality that is not new. We've had specialists come in and teach Sexual Assault Prevention Response classes in basic training, with very good reason.
We have amazing athletic trainers on staff. We pay tons of money to have athletic trainers, not because our MTIs couldn't do a good job of coaching, but that's not their deep area of expertise. We've shown that if you get an expert out there, an athletic trainer, we can drive injuries down and drive performance up.
The MTIs are always going be the center of our trainees’ universe, but having somebody who's an expert in a field come in and say, “How about this?”; whether it's putting an aura ring on someone's finger–not an endorsement– or whether it's just talking to someone about their sleep habits and how to improve those.
Because the fact is the easy button at BMT has always been, “OK, MTI, here is the new page in the curriculum, read that and find a way to make it engaging and exciting.”
I don't think that's enough when it comes to something as important as the human weapon system.
Airman Magazine:
What are some of the most difficult challenges currently facing basic training, and how are you and your team preparing to meet those challenges?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
One of the biggest challenges we face every day is infrastructure. I'm not breaking any news on this. The facilities that we operate out of are a mixture (of old and new).
Over my shoulder, you can see Airman Training Complex Number One: one of our state-of-the-art training complex facilities that opened in 2012. It's the state of the art for basic military training. While they have their challenges because they're now almost 10 years old, they are far superior to the Recruit Housing and Training Complexes or RH&Ts that you and I went through that were 1950s and ‘60s; technology that has shown its age.
BMT is a place where just the foot traffic alone wears things down: every door knob, every handrail, every stair, every window gets abused at a level. Even when well taken care of, it gets a level of reps that most facilities don't get.
Our infrastructure is tough here because of those facilities. Even if the stairs are good, when you have a 1950s boiler or HVAC unit in the heat of the summer in San Antonio, it's a big deal when that goes down.
If the AC in my house goes out, I can jump in my car and go to the movies while it’s being repaired, or I can check into a hotel. If I have several hundred trainees in a squadron and the AC goes out, what do I do with them?
Taking care of the facilities is a big deal.
The good news is we have an ongoing MILCON (Military Construction) project that is replacing those RH&Ts. By 2028 in the current model, we'll have four additional Airmen Training Complexes, which will give me eight of those facilities, which is enough for all of my line squadrons, squadrons that produce basic trainees. We'll have facilities that live up to the Air Force's expectation of excellence in facilities and kind of being the showcase wing in the Air Force. 
The gateway wing has a reputation for being the place where the Air Force culture is born. The Air Force's culture of excellence needs to be reflected in our facilities. That's a big challenge, but it's something that we're taking head-on.
I have an amazing team around me, amazing partners with the 502nd Air Base Wing that are helping us limp our facilities along to keep them alive until we can move out and take advantage of the new ones.
The second biggest challenge we face is manning.
The fact is the number of MTIs I have on the ground on any given day is directly related to the risk I take. Oversight of the trainees requires a certain number of folks, and I have authorizations for 700-plus MTIs, but I have almost 100 vacancies.
This means every time I don't have two-to-one flight manning, meaning two instructors for a flight, that means an instructor has to carry a flight across the entire duty day. Which is something they can do, and, in fact, some of them thrive in that environment. They get to focus all their attention on the trainees all day long, but that comes at a cost with the military training staff. There comes a cost to their families. If they have to spend long days alone in this intense environment where people are pouring a bunch of physical energy and a bunch of emotional energy into their Airmen, at the end of a 12 or 13-hour duty day, it's tough to make great decisions 100% of the time, especially early in training.
Getting our manning to 100% would be my number one goal, but there's nobody in the Air Force that is 100% manned. So, what we do is manage that risk effectively.
I have a lot of squadrons operating at the same time. Not all of them are struggling with manning on any given day. Embracing that ability to take the Velcro patch off your sleeve and go to another squadron and be an MTI for a day or two to help balance that out is something we do internally.
My senior enlisted leader is doing a great job of looking deep into the future and helping me to make sure that every command chief out there in the Air Force, every wing commander in the Air Force, understands not only the importance of the BMT mission but how valuable this experience is for their NCOs.
If you have a star on your team out there in the Air Force somewhere, the place you want to send them to, to get that leadership crucible I talked about and come back just a better, well-rounded NCO, is BMT. It is something that we have to continually message because I need people who want to be here. Our manpower will improve if we get lots of people raising their hands saying, “Please send me.” So it’s a challenge every day.

Airman Magazine:
In 2019, you received your master's degree in National Security Resource Strategy. How does that expertise help you make decisions that keep Airmen at BMT safe and secure?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
My time at the Eisenhower School and getting that degree wasn't focused on the BMT mission, but there are some really interesting parallels to it.
The focus areas are, number one, the defense industrial base and how we would mobilize our economy to support our country in a time of war. My area of emphasis was in ethics, so mobilization of the industrial base doesn't sound like it's directly related to BMT, but here's the way it is.
The other thing that we have to mobilize in a time of crisis is the people of the United States of America. Getting a large number of people to come to basic military training is greater than we are challenged with every day.  I don't run Recruiting Services. I'm a recipient of their great work. It's no secret that recruiting is a challenge right now, generating a sufficient number of prospects and getting a sufficient number of folks to raise their hands and come into the Air Force. While meeting those goals, if you exhaust 100% of your prospects to meet what are essentially now peacetime goals, what does it look like in two or three, or five years when we have to ramp up our production? How are we going to get more people here?
How does that relate to my day-to-day mission here? The way it relates to me here is making sure that I have created an environment that's flexible and ready to take on more folks;  that I have a system in place that can adapt to an increase in throughput. I need training techniques that are tailored to make sure we make the most out of every second that trainees have here.
I get the opportunity. In this room, as a matter of fact, every Friday, I bring in all the Zero-Weekers.  We fill this auditorium, and I look into their eyes, and I see a mix of emotions. There are people that are fired up and want to be here. They spent the last two years preparing to be here and are physically and mentally prepared to be successful; Spaatz cadets from Civil Air Patrol, senior cadets from Air Force Junior ROTC, or one of our sister service Junior ROTC programs, who are killing it.
Sitting next to them, I see people who've left home for the first time who may be feeling conflicted about coming here, looking scared, confused and lost. They woke up that morning when reveille sounded like, “what have I gotten myself into?” I have that entire spectrum in this auditorium every day.
But seven weeks later, I bring them back in here the day before graduation, and I look around the room. I can't tell the difference between the two anymore. The one who came here, lost and confused, is sitting just as tall and proud as the one who was a Spaatz cadet.
Knowing that, in this place, we can make that difference in such a short period inspires me to believe that, out there in American society, the people that don't have a high propensity to serve and the people that we don't think are ready to serve right now, just may need a little extra effort. It’s not such a big step beyond that to say maybe I could do this, and maybe I want to do this.
I think BMT’s reputation, our ability to take amazing young people that maybe didn't think they were going to make it through and have them crush it, and getting recruiting service to go back out there and tell the story of both of those trainees and say, “BMT is an amazing place where opportunity abounds.”
I think BMT is one of those great places where telling the stories of our folks here is going to inspire folks out there to think more seriously about joining the Air Force. We own that in BMT because it's the first place that they understand what it is to be treated as an Airman.
The environment that we're placed in here; (is) being treated with dignity, respect and valuing every person on the team and the diversity they bring, whatever their personality, background, experience, talent levels, motivation, and knowing that they would be welcome here, is an important story to tell.
I tell them, “Hey, you're welcome here. All those things that make you individuals, I'm not here to erase those; I'm not making robots here. What we're doing is we're making Airmen who are ready to serve in a dynamic and diverse force and you can do that. You don't have to erase your identity to be successful here.”
I think if more people knew that, more people would have a propensity to serve. Generating enough folks to want to come here in a time of conflict is something that we have a role in. Not officially, but I think we owe that to the Air Force and to the nation to tell the story of the transformation that's possible here. That transformation can begin with a little bit of influence by a teacher, or veteran, or recruiter, or family member who goes home for the recruiter assistance program to say, ”Hey, don't believe what you saw in Full Metal Jacket. BMT is a place where you can be successful.”
The other thing at the Eisenhower School that we focused on was on ethics. Ethical leadership is a key component of basic military training.
There's no secret there's a giant power imbalance here, right?
When folks are given the authority to take ownership of a flight of 50 young people, who will literally do whatever you tell them to do, unimpeachable ethics is a requirement just to keep our trainees safe; to make this an environment where Americans will trust us to receive their loved ones.
But at the same time, it's not just my ability to trust my instructors, which I do, or America's ability to see them as ethical leaders. It's our basic trainees looking up to their MTIs. The MTIs that serve here are the very first and best example, ideally, of what a supervisor is in the Air Force and what an NCO is in the Air Force, and what a trusted leader is in the Air Force, a mentor, somebody who is going to act ethically all the time and embody the core values of the Air Force.
The ethics training that I received at the Eisenhower School applies directly here, just on a smaller scale. There it was, the law of war. Here, it's about ethical activities on a daily basis that are just as impactful because what happens here in basic training changes lives every day. Doing it right and setting a high ethical bar from day one pays off for the Air Force generation after generation if we hit it right.
Airman Magazine:
What does the MTI training pipeline look like?
The 737th Training Support Squadron owns the MTI schoolhouse and that is internal to BMT. We train every MTI in the Air Force, including MTIs that don't serve here.
Most folks don't know that there are a handful of MTIs at OTS at Maxwell [AFB] and at the Air Force Academy. All of them are trained here in our curriculum. That course takes an NCO, from a great NCO to someone who's a hat-wearing Military Training Instructor.
When they leave military training instructor school, they go to a line squadron where they're going to do their job. They go through about a 90-day process of on-the-job training, we call it the TQ process, the task qualification process, where they get spun up all the way.
During that time, they are supervised by a trainer MTI who's achieved that status and responsibility being a trainer. They have to take a real flight, train them and go through all the requirements to become an expert at BMT.
But the MTI training process really never stops. We know we give them the hat, and now we set them loose. We get them through TQ and now they're salt. They can be solo on a flight, but my hope is that while they're here, we never stop investing in them.
In our deliberate leadership development program, BMT spans their time as an MTI with targeted engagements. Along the way, we make sure that we are giving them things to make them successful while they're here, make them more successful as they grow as an MTI,  as they get additional responsibilities and, on the back side, prepare them for the off-ramp to a smooth transition back to their career field.

Airman Magazine:
As the commander of basic military training ,you'll get to touch the lives of every single person that enlists in the U.S. Air Force. What are you hoping that they take away from this experience?
Col. Jeff Pixley:
I hope what they can take away from BMT is how much power there is in each one of our individual actions and that it only takes a brief interaction with someone to change their lives.
In BMT, they're influenced by their military instructors. A single person, when they pour themselves into another person, can make a huge difference in their lives.
That's true for (the) good stuff, and it's also true for bad stuff. I have the unfortunate opportunity sometimes to have to give extremely bad news to folks and sign a paper that says they are not going to be in the Air Force anymore.
Even in those moments, what I try to do is make them understand that just because you're not going to be an Airman or just because you failed at BMT doesn't mean you're a failure. The fact that you volunteered in the first place, the fact that you want to be here and you're fighting to stay-but I can't let you stay because the rules say I can't- tells me something about what's in your heart.
Going off to be a civilian after having spent even a few days in BMT can be life-changing. It should be life-changing. I'm convinced it is.
 People need to understand that every one of us has the power to make a difference in someone's life in a good way or a bad way.
When I part ways with someone or when they part ways with someone, that other person should feel better off for having had that encounter. If they don't, then we own that.
Once you appreciate that, it's hard to have a negative interaction with someone when you realize how much power a brief moment might have with someone's life.