Three Airmen assigned to the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., recently participated in a design sprint focused on Enlisted Professional Military Education in 2030 at the AFWERX Hub in Las Vegas, Nev., Jan. 11-13.
Master Sgt. Jeremy Neilson, 412th Test Wing Senior Command Chief Executive Non-commissioned Officer, Master Sgt. Chad Hardesty, Ellington Airman Leadership School Commandant, and Tech. Sgt. John Wyatt, Talent Management and Optimization Specialist, were invited to the event, which was a part of Project Morpheus, a collaboration on potential models and designs on educating the enlisted force of the future, strategically positioned under the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force innovation ecosystem to solve problems.
“EPME needs to be reconfigured to acknowledge our evolving need to be technologically and critically inclined,” Neilson said. “Industry has adopted technology to enhance market competitiveness and the Air Force has a need to adopt, sustain and advance this agile developmental mentality to be competitive in the new era of information wars.”
The three NCOs’ trip to the AFWERX Hub in Las Vegas was funded by the Edwards AFB SparkED Innovation Team. The team actively supports innovative efforts to answer Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr.’s charge of “Accelerate Change or Lose.”
“We have a growing recognition that the civilian sector can, and is being coerced through modern technologies,” Neilson added. “As the nation’s sword and shield we are the service responsible for its protection and heightened in-depth analysis.”
Neilson believes that air superiority has traditionally been the Air Force’s the core leadership focus, but in a new emerging era of warfare, leveraging intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) tactics, techniques and procedures of data consolidation rapidly tailored to respond to threats will become a core mentality.
“EPME has traditionally not been configured to operate with such agility, being built before such technologies were conceptually possible, it needs to be modernized, leveraging data driven decision-making, to address global competitors we have not been in direct confrontation with arguably since the early inception of our service,” Neilson explained.
The need to adapt EPME was championed by both Brown and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass earlier this year when they published the Enlisted Force Development Action Plan.
“The fight for tomorrow has already begun and it will undoubtedly be fought by many Airmen who are serving today. In the Information Age and the modern battlefield, a culture of teamwork that integrates everyone’s diverse abilities, talents, and ideas is essential to maximize and deliver meaningful results,” they said in a letter addressed to Air Force leaders in the EFD 2022-2023 Action Plan.
The EFD Action Plan highlights a vision of the year 2030 Enlisted Force that is centered on teaming with the ability to operate and survive in all domains. Hardesty, believes EPME will play a significant role to achieve that vision.
EPME is a culmination of Airman Leadership School, Non-commissioned Officer Academy, Senior NCOA and Chiefs’ course amongst other development opportunities. The mission is to educate, develop and inspire enlisted leaders for joint, all-domain, warfighting excellence.
“We must start now to build the multi-capable Airmen mindset that can operate beyond traditional specialties,” Hardesty said. “The education of today needs to prepare our Airmen of 2030 to be collaborative and seize the competitive advantage.”
Hardesty explained that the 2030 Airman concept is embedded with the idea that Airmen as we are today are not going to look the same; meaning that the lens in which the Air Force has traditionally trained, educated and shaped Airmen will be in a completely different focus.
“This new focus is derived from the knowledge that our worldview has shifted and will continue to shift as our near-peer adversaries grow ever more vigilant and advanced in their technological, economical and geopolitical pursuits,” he said. “It is important to think about now because for too long we have been stuck in a modality and mindset that how we have always done it, will still work.”
“Tradition has its place within the rank and file, but when needing to advance our most important resource, our Total Force Airmen, traditional pursuits will increasingly keep us living in the past,” Hardesty warned.
Changing EPME will require a shift in attention to the future through utilizing the newest research, centered on academia and how people learn, recognizing trends in educational pursuits amongst society and not attempting to maintain the status quo.
“Much like when airpower was first introduced to warfare, the Airmen of 2030 will be challenged by new methodological attacks intended to disrupt, distract or destroy our assumptions of our own capabilities and that of our enemy,” Neilson said. “We are asking the Airmen of 2030 to meet these new challenges with a pioneering spirit to fight on cognitive arenas not yet graced by the leaders before them, made lethal through the power of technology, testing the core beliefs of our democratic republic.”
Participants at the AFWERX-hosted design sprint identified issues and concerns. Hardesty said that a common consensus of these involved decentralizing education. Possible steps to accomplish this could include partnerships with industry and collegiate counterparts and creating a repository of educational methodologies (videos, lesson plans, etc.) that can be accessed by any Airmen regardless of specialty code.
Ideas such as peer-to-peer learning, redefining the training, role and education of the instructor or educator in the classroom, revamping classrooms to be more tech friendly and incorporated (virtual and augmented reality) and leveraging the unique skills and interest of Airmen to enable the realization of the multi-capable Airmen concept were discussed.
“In the end, while these and many more paths forward were identified and discussed, there is still much more work to be done in developing and building upon our initial pitches,” Hardesty said. “I’m very much excited to keep getting after this and turn our ideations into reality.”