AETC command chief: Focus is preparing Airmen for tomorrow's fight

  • Published
  • By Michelle Martin
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The top enlisted leader of Air Education and Training command, Chief Master Sgt. Erik Thompson, got an up-close look at the Air Force’s largest technical training wing Oct. 6-7 during an immersion tour.

“The big takeaway from being here is Sheppard is still generating combat air power every single day,” said Thompson. “It is a massive engine that produces quality Airmen.”

Thompson hit the ground running visiting the 80th Flying Training Wing, home of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, and then 82nd Training Wing mission. The itinerary included several schoolhouse tours, meeting both students and instructors and finishing up his immersion with an all-call at the base theater, where he addressed Sheppard’s Airmen.

When it comes to training today’s Airmen for tomorrow’s Air Force, Thompson has a clear-cut philosophy he wants to convey. He noted the United States faces new strategic competitors in China and Russia. He emphasized the importance of ensuring Airmen are oriented toward that philosophy from the very beginning of their time in the Air Force.

The chief said in today’s international environment, it’s difficult to go it alone when facing peer adversaries. That’s why training alongside international partners is paramount to success.

“All you have to do is look at our national security and national defense strategy to understand that we can’t do this by ourselves and we certainly don’t want to do this by ourselves,” he said. “We’re absolutely more effective, more capable and more lethal when we train together, deploy together and fight together across countries, across nationalities and certainly across platforms.”

Thompson said it’s easy for him to translate AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb’s mission, vision and priorities into actionable goals. Continuing to enhance force development, lethality and readiness, transform training, and cultivating an environment of excellence are his top goals.  

“We have to produce the highest quality Airmen with the best training and best education,” he said. “That means we have to continue to innovate and evolve in methods and modalities to make sure we are utilizing the latest technology, the best instruction techniques and the highest quality instructors to produce the strongest and most capable Airmen today.”

He praised what he saw across the base during the immersion, recognizing the phenomenal job Military Training Leaders do by building, caring for and preparing Airmen. He also said the tech training instructors do an awesome job of preparing Airmen for the operational roles they will have when they get to their respective duty stations.

Thompson is no stranger to Sheppard AFB. He began his career as a helicopter maintenance student in 1993 before returning in 1997 when he cross-trained into the flight engineer career field. Prior to his role as AETC command chief, he served in the same capacity for 19th Air Force, the Numbered Air Force responsible for administering pilot training for AETC.