JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The Air Force security forces career field made an innovative leap recently by creating its first Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve specific 7-level course.
The course, which took place from Dec. 7-18, 2020, is a Total Force initiative with active duty personnel acting as the instructor cadre to a group of 118 Airmen. The program aims to make a dent in the current training backlog that Guardsmen and Reservists face by creating more qualified noncommissioned officers. Seat allocations were split evenly among Guard and Reserve staff sergeants so that they could progress in their careers and maintain important readiness requirements.
Senior Master Sgt. Chanda Conger, 343rd Security Forces Squadron flight chief, serves at the helm for 11 of these total forces courses annually and understands the challenges many Guard and Reserve members must tackle when trying to balance their civilian careers with their military development and service obligations.
“Think about those Guard and Reserve folks who walked away quickly from their civilian responsibilities to be here,” Conger said. “It was great to see how hard they worked and how appreciative they were for the opportunity. I don’t want their sacrifice to be here to go unnoticed. It really opened my eyes to the need and to how we can make this a part of our normal battle rhythm moving forward.”
With less than 30 days lead time, the class was herculean-like in its efforts and involved support from multiple agencies, units, commanders, chiefs, unit training managers, civilian employers, and students.
Chief Master Sgt. T.J. Hall, the National Guard Bureau’s security forces manager, applauded the Total Force collaboration that made the concept a reality during such uncertain times. He noted that much of the preparation and execution came down to the rallying of the 343rd SFS’s instructors who stepped up in a relatively short window of time to make the course come together.
“The 343rd SFS cadre and instructors made sacrifices to their work and personal schedules to accommodate an additional class, and they did so with willful pride,” Hall said.
From a supervisory point of view, Conger credited most of the course’s success to her team’s diligence. Her senior NCO in charge of the course, Master Sgt. Branden Gandre, worked a lot of the pre-coordination, making sure cadre were in place and finding certified personnel who could step in as instructors when others had already planned to take leave.
“It was really nice to be the team and the unit to drive this course,” Conger said. “Master Sgt. Gandre and our other instructors are really the most selfless team. They were full of energy and very dedicated to making this happen, and I’m very proud of them.”
Like its instructors, the course itself is leadership-driven and prepares Air Force staff sergeants to take on more responsibilities and ownership as they progress in rank. General course objectives include learning more about forms, reports and other administrative tasks, leading guard mount, performing flight-level exercises, and applying recapture and recovery operations.
“The two biggest things that stood out to me from the course were the versatility of being an NCO and that with every advancement comes greater responsibility,” said Staff Sgt. Tina Ryder.
Ryder is a member of the Air National Guard’s 149th Security Forces Squadron headquartered at JBSA-Lackland. Although she did not attend the most recently held 7-level course, Ryder has attended one during the current pandemic and remarked on how much she enjoyed the leadership focus of the course.
“In order to lead, you must be well rounded and have exceptional communication skills to effectively manage troops,” she said. “I am very hands-on and prefer training that challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone, and the knowledge gained from my peers was a great asset and learning different approaches to leadership was invaluable.”
Besides building confidence and various communication skills, Ryder said the course also provided important conceptual skills like reviewing base defense procedures. Even though she may not be responsible for creating these specific technologies or plans, she said it helped her understand the effectiveness of the plans she is responsible for securing and defending.
Ryder also noted leadership’s proactive response in adding this course when considering the needs of many Guardsmen and Reservists.
“Having the course available is extremely helpful to career advancement,” Ryder said. “If a backlog occurs, it creates a delay in our ability to complete upgrade training and to promote.”
During this most recent course, the top two members from their career field — Brig. Gen. Roy W. Collins, director of security forces, and Chief Master Sgt. Brian L. Lewis, security forces career field manager — visited the inaugural class to update the students on the career field, answer many of their burning questions, and show appreciation for the unique perspective these Airmen bring to the career field.
Conger said that it was not just the students who benefitted from the visit but that leadership also appreciated the reciprocal value these types of visits provide.
“It was an opportunity for them to focus and get feedback on how the Guard and Reserve members are performing the mission,” Conger said. “It really helped open their aperture and better understand the needs and opportunities of the Total Force. When the students would ask a question, you could see a lot of heads shaking in agreements, so it is a great opportunity for everyone to take those lessons back to their units and be a voice for these Airmen.”
Although there are no fixed dates set, personnel from the three Air Force organizations are hoping to hold another 7-level course specifically for Guard and Reserve SFS members this coming summer of 2021.