JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
As early as 2015, the Air Force recognized the power of Basic Military Training enhanced integration in creating a climate of dignity and respect.
Enhanced integration beta tests in 2015 and 2019 demonstrated those exact benefits and yielded lower levels of trainee misconduct. Further implementation was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the first Airmen assigned to enhanced integrated flights at BMT graduated Jan. 13.
Today, a limited number of flights in each BMT squadron are integrated into all aspects of training aside from sleeping and hygiene time.
“Nowhere else in the Air Force do we operate in single-gendered formations,” said Lt. Col. Michelle Sterling, 324th Training Squadron commander. “It’s appropriate to start our newest Airmen in the environment we expect them to operate in throughout their careers.”
While the 324th TRS is the first squadron to integrate a limited number of flights, enhanced integration is being phased in as each BMT squadron picks up a new class of trainees -- meaning one squadron per week began integrating flights. The 320th TRS is the final squadron to integrate and picked up their class Jan. 18.
Despite COVID-19 originally delaying flight integration, “we have mastered protocols and procedures in the last 18 months that enabled us to move forward,” Sterling said.
The vaccination requirement, coupled with COVID-19 protocols and strict hygiene and cleaning discipline, contributed to ensuring the safety of all personnel.
Sterling added that BMT leveraged the lessons learned from beta tests in 2015 and 2019.
“It was clear to us that the trainees would take their cues from their instructors not just on folding clothes or making beds, but on their professionalism,” she said. “We established MTI team chiefs for each set of integrated flights to increase supervision and decrease the administrative burden on individual MTIs to allow them to focus on the flights and forming multiple high performing teams.”
All dormitory flights are paired and combined to form integrated training flights. In the case of the 324th TRS that meant eight training flights were gender-integrated, while the remaining six flights were all male.
BMT partnered with the RAND Corporation to do a deep dive of the enhanced integration plan.
One of the main issues reviewed was that of balancing integration with isolation.
“One of the many questions we asked was about any concerns of a minimum percentage of females in a flight,” said Bill Fischer, BMT Training Director.
The 2018 RAND Report and the associated literature review indicated there should be no less than 15% of women in any flight and that percentages lower than that would create isolation.
“Although it’s an extreme example, having two females in a flight of 50 isn’t really integration and can actually do more harm than leaving those two females in an all-female flight,” Fischer added.
While every female trainee will train in a gender-integrated flight, not every flight will be integrated as female-male. However, BMT leadership stated that there are benefits of integrating flights, whether male-male or male-female. The integration means Military Training Instructors will get exposed to more of their fellow trainees and enhance their training as they could be pushing a female flight for one class and then a male flight the next.
The 2018 RAND report also highlighted the potential benefits of enhanced integration. For example, the report states that “generally research suggests that [enhanced integration] improves female performance and does not adversely affect male performance in terms of both readiness and cohesion.”
Additionally, it points out that in some cases there were higher physical fitness, marksmanship, and individual proficiency test scores in a sample of Army integrated units; and that in one study two-thirds of respondents stated that having men and women in basic training made it easier to adapt once in integrated operational units. Some research also indicates that integration improves teamwork. [RAND, An Assessment of Options for Increasing Gender Integration in Air Force Basic Military Training, pages 5-13.]
Full integration (all flights in all squadrons) will be implemented when the BMT electronic system of record is upgraded to administratively support the logistics associated with blending flights.
“Exposure to more people of any background will hopefully lead to more resilient and more adaptable Airmen,” said Col. Rockie Wilson, 37th Training Wing commander. The 37th TRW is home to the Department of the Air Force’s only basic military training location.
Males and females remain segregated for sleeping and hygiene. MTIs may, at times, conduct classes in the dormitories or day rooms, but at no time will trainees be in mixed-gender formations in the dormitories unsupervised.
BMT is anticipating the electronic infrastructure that helps MTIs maintain accountability and manage schedules to be updated in spring 2022. With this upgrade, BMT will then move into full integration.
“Updating the IT infrastructure is one of our highest priorities,” said Col. Jeffrey Pixley, 737th Training Group commander. “When integrating two flights, MTIs are currently able to manage the accountability and schedules. However, it would be an administrative nightmare and we risk losing accountability if we attempt to integrate the entire squadron right now.”
Pixley added that accountability is about more than headcounts and who is where and when. MTIs are responsible for executing hundreds of syllabus events per trainee.
“We need a reliable system to ensure every trainee’s progress through the syllabus is tracked,” he said. “The upgrade will allow us to do that with our integrated flights.”
By the summer of 2022, every flight in BMT is projected to be integrated.