JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Several hundred Total Force Air Force enlisted basic military trainees assigned to the 433rd Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas are making history as the first class to enter training in the fully operational, all-Reserve military training squadron.
The 433rd TRS, one of seven squadrons assigned to the 340th Flying Training Group at JBSA-Randolph, is the only all-Reserve military training instructor squadron in the Air Force. Normally, the squadron's Reserve MTIs are embedded in Regular Air Force (active duty) squadrons to support Air Education and Training Command's enlisted accession mission.
In May, however, the squadron called its instructors back to the unit, and all members (as well as local Reserve Officer Training Corps volunteers) streamed into their newly assigned building to paint, repair and prepare it for trainees. Now a fully-operational squadron, the Reserve team is working side-by-side with the six active duty BMT squadrons, with full responsibility for all mission requirements.
The Reserve squadron, supplemented by former active duty MTIs who were invited to return temporarily to MTI duty, has activated five dozen Airmen to "push" 15 flights of 30 to 40 trainees each through the seven-week basic military training program. Volunteers from the 433rd Airlift Wing at JBSA-Lackland are rounding out the team, serving in the charge of quarters (CQ) office.
The 433rd TRS, with the 500-plus trainees in its care, is not only making history but has established itself as a quintessential Total Force Integration unit.
The Reserve squadron conducted a capability demonstration in October 2018, standing up and pushing four flights through the course, to illustrate its ability to activate when necessary. That necessity presented itself as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To ensure we can maintain adequate physical separation between trainees, the 737th Training Group determined the best way to meet Air Force mission requirements while protecting Airmen would be to stand up an additional squadron, which gives us additional physical space," said Master Sgt. Matthew Scott, 433rd TRS operations NCO.
The 2018 capability demonstration showed the Reserve team was more than up to the challenge.
Processes and routines are anything but routine under COVID-19 conditions, though, so MTIs, superintendents, logisticians, and more are adjusting, sometimes on the fly, to ensure trainees get the education and training critical to future success, but in a safe environment.
"Their first two weeks are a lot different from pre-COVID classes," Scott said. "For example, they don't go as a group to get their uniform issue anymore. Now AAFES sends representatives to the squadron to get all the pertinent information, and the uniforms are ordered and delivered when they're ready. Trainees get their PT gear early, though, so they are uniform, and they do get values-based instruction, records processing and weapons training during the first two weeks, as well. We're keeping things pretty flexible because for the first two weeks we're also watching for any indicators or symptoms of illness."
Scott, a former Regular Air Force MTI, knows all about flexibility on the fly. As a Reserve Airman for about a month, he's learning the ins-and-outs of Reserve duty while helping stand up a Reserve squadron that is composed of the gamut of Airmen from bases and cities around the country. With 20-plus years on active duty, with five of those as an MTI, he brings a fresh, total force perspective to the team.
As a member of the leadership team, Scott works side-by-side with MTI recruiter Master Sgt. Robert Elliott, superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Tamara Strange and commander Lt. Col. Tony Erard. Between them, they have set the stage for success for the trainees and the training teams.
For Elliott, the challenge of managing the MTI recruiting function is definitely affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions, coupled with a host of additional and interim duties.
"When you have exceptional performers assigned to the unit, you can expect to lose them to growth opportunities," Elliott said. "For example, one of our sharpest members, an instructor supervisor, has been selected as the enlisted executive to the 22nd Air Force command chief. It's a great opportunity for her but does impact our structure. Once we select the right person for the position, that will open additional opportunities throughout the squadron. We are always looking for Reserve Airmen interested in this opportunity, and those interested should be aware that MTI duty reaps tangible and intangible rewards for the strongly independent, career-minded, highly motivated professional NCOs who want to help mold tomorrow's Air Force."
As busy as they are with their primary duties, squadron members are also engaged in other activities, including teaching leadership and team development seminars for local and command-level events and sending honor guard teams to support command- and Air Force-level events.
"We have an obligation to make the Air Force Reserve, and the Air Force, better and we take that obligation very seriously," Erard said. "Our professional Airmen are honored to share their skills with their total force teammates."
Those skills were evident during the 2018 capability demonstration, and Chief Strange expects to see similar successes when this class graduates in mid-July.
"From the strategic perspective, the 433rd demonstrated its ability to shoulder a significant share of the BMT mission, and trainees assigned to 433rd confirmed their instructors’ abilities, earning individual and team recognition," the chief said. "One flight earned the commander’s excellence award (overall honor flight) and the top female fitness award. One flight earned the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, or BEAST, excellence award, and another took second for male fitness excellence. Six of the top fitness performers were 433rd trainees, and 21 earned the distinction of honor graduate. We think these trainees are going to shine, as well."
Trainees assigned to the 433rd TRS received their uniform issue June 16, a month before their scheduled graduation date. With full-force training and education underway, the days are long for trainees and their MTI guides, but the goal is in sight.
"We're excited about where the unit is headed," Erard said. "This is the first of what will be several full capability classes. Less than a week after this class graduates, we'll have another 500 trainees in the building, ready to learn and ready to take their place in the long blue line."