Training groups, squadrons develop uniform process to manage AiT requirements

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

Part 3 of 4

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Air Force maintainers are provided a series of instructions called technical orders that give step-by-step guidance on how to perform a variety of maintenance and operations procedures.

Tech orders are a means to create a safe, efficient and effective uniformed standard that forms structure within maintenance career fields and others. For example, changing a tire on a C-130 Hercules at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, and Dyess AFB, Texas, are the same.

That type of uniformity would be expected in just about every applicable aspect of the military.

But up until a little more than a year ago, the 82nd Training Wing here at Sheppard AFB, the largest and most diverse technical training installation in the Air Force, didn’t have a standardized process to ensure Airmen in Training graduating from aircraft maintenance, civil engineering, communications, cyber, logistics and nuclear operations courses were ready to move on to their next location. The end result was more than 500 Airmen in Training sitting at Sheppard in “student out of training” status, or Airmen who had graduated but were being held up by administrative or other actions.

When wing leadership realized this was a problem and a detriment to the flow of Airmen into the operational Air Force, Guard and Reserve, a plan was put in motion to ensure the 82nd TRW was completing its mission to train the world’s best Airmen efficiently.

David Hendricks, chief of operations and policy at the 782nd Training Group, was tapped by Col. Daniel Lemons, 782nd TRG commander, to get out of his comfort zone a little and establish an across-the-board standard for all training groups and squadrons here, and reduce the number of SOTs.

From documents to medical reviews, passports and other requirements, Hendricks said each group and squadron had their own processes that resulted in categorical inefficiencies. What was needed was the difficult task of identifying where those inefficiencies were, what was causing some of the hang-ups and setting a path for course correction.

“This was a huge deep-dive into everybody’s chili,” the retired Air Force maintainer said. “It wasn’t just squadrons. It wasn’t just groups. It involved the 82nd Force Support Squadron. It even involved the 82nd Logistics Readiness Squadron and how fast Airmen could get port calls.”

Hendricks said the first step in the review was taking an internal look at how the 782nd TRG was processing AiT. He said civilian evaluators were sent out to the group’s three training squadrons – the 364th, 365th and 366th Training squadrons – and find the good and bad from each. He said that was a necessary step because they didn’t want to pinpoint the bad in other units without fixing their own first.

While evaluators were out in the training squadrons, Hendricks said he went to FSS to see how they processed assignments and orders. A procedural change in FSS uploading information to Air Force Personnel Center and the efforts of 782nd TRG Deputy Commander Vincent Terrell to provide AiT assignments quicker. Hendricks said the assignments drop is the trigger for AiT to begin working on specific items required to have orders cut and eventually move on from Sheppard.

“The first major thing we noticed were Airmen not getting their assignments in a timely manner once they got here. That was the big outlier,” he said. “If you can’t get assignments, you can’t get orders. If you can’t get orders, it just leads into delays later on. Some of these classes, you got to understand, are 28-30 days long, so if you don’t get your assignment in a timely manner, automatically these Airmen were becoming SOTs.”

Hendricks said once the assignment process was ironed out, the 782nd TRG mandated a five-duty-day timeline for squadrons to have all documents to FSS so the student processing section could cut orders. After shoring up the processes within the 782nd TRG, the standard was implemented in the 82nd TRG.

Senior Master Sgt. Jeremiah Layton, superintendent of military training leaders in the 361st TRS, said MTLs in the squadrons are the conduit of information and requirements between the AiTs and FSS. He said requirements for Airmen depend on where they are going. An Airman going overseas, for example, has to complete different and perhaps more tasks than someone getting an assignment stateside.

Layton said although SOT reduction efforts were underway when he returned to Sheppard in 2021, it was already determined that training units on base were “running their own race.” He said there wasn’t team collaboration among TRGs and TRSs, FSS and the 82nd Medical Group like there should have been.

Getting different agencies to move in parallel with one another was a large contributing factor in figuring out the breakdowns in the process. He said having weekly meetings among the key players to discuss the current SOT load and specific Airmen and what their needs are to complete requirements.

“It really pushed us to work in parallel with each other,” he said. “It helped us to bridge the communication gap between the different organizations, and it forged positive relationships to where, let’s say we had an Airman that needed orders really fast. We had good communication between FSS that I could call and say, ‘Hey, this Airman graduates today and doesn’t have orders. Can we take care of that?’”

Layton said a departure delay can take a toll on the psyche of an Airmen who is looking forward to graduating, moving on to their next location and, in some cases, reconnecting with family. He said he was married when he joined the Air Force in 2003, and was able to leave for his first assignment at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, upon graduation. Now, he tries to put himself in the shoes of AiT who are on SOT status and are waiting to leave.

“We need to focus on people,” he said, “because we see what the effects are on Airmen when they’re here past their graduation date. They want to go out and they want to be part of the operational Air Force.”

Layton said he has seen a change in the morale of Airmen with the changes in processes because there is a higher probability that they will move on within 24 hours of graduation, rather than having to wait, which could demotivate the Airman.

Hendricks said that while processes were in place, they were not efficient. To effect change in how assignments, requirements and orders were processed, it required a change in culture among the organizations. He said each agency bought into the new processes to see a significant reduction in SOTs, which has hovered around 100 in recent months.

Although numbers have improved, there is still work to do. Now, he said, it’s a matter of continuing to improve upon the process and make it sustainable.

“The biggest thing we need to concentrate on is that there is a daily battle rhythm that has to happen amongst FSS and all the players in that,” he said. “We’re more efficient at what we’re doing, but there has to be a daily battle rhythm that has to be hit by each team that’s involved in this.”

Now that training units have made course corrections on their processes and implemented effective procedures, the ability to ensure more AiT have completed all requirements necessary to move on will have a positive impact on gaining units across the Air Force.