COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.”
– General Colin Powell
The 37th Flying Training Squadron, known as the Bengal Tigers, is one of two T-6A Texan II squadrons at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, supporting the Air Force mission through pilot production via the primary phase of pilot training.
Students can expect the highest level of standards to be upheld as they progress through the program and world-class training in preparation for the next, more advanced, phase of their aviation career in the T-1A Jayhawk, TH-1 Iroquois, or T-38C Talon.
In the daily process of creating aviators, what should not be lost in the background is how the Bengal Tigers cultivate airmen through many different avenues of professional development for its permanent party instructors and beyond.
The Air Force offers numerous opportunities for development both in the leadership and professional realm within one’s Air Force Specialty Code. Using the whole person concept, the 37th FTS affords its members numerous prospects to better themselves through several initiatives.
Squadron Officer School (SOS), Advanced Instrument School (AIS), Instructor Enrichment Program flights and cadet orientation flights have, and continue to provide, building blocks to better connect Bengal Tigers to the greater Air Force and act as a catalyst for further future development as officers and leaders.
SOS, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, is the first level of professional military education (PME) and provides a leadership and critical thinking laboratory for developing officers in the rank of captain or civilian airmen in the grades of GS-9 through GS-12.
A first step in a progressive military education system, either via in-residence or distance learning, SOS graduates should have an “…enhanced understanding of the institutional competencies, leadership actions, and key elements of reasoning required to fly, fight and win in the 21st century.”
In 2017-2018 several Bengal Tiger captains were selected to attend SOS, completing a rigorous academic schedule over six and a half weeks.
SOS and other PME courses, commensurate with rank, also afford alumni a networking opportunity that will stay with them the course of their careers and beyond. While SOS is designed to develop decision making in warfighters across the spectrum of AFSCs, AIS is focused more on developing airmen specific to aviation and aviation support.
AIS, located at the Air Force Flight Standards Agency, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma provides a graduate level understanding of instrument flight and the support mechanism of the National Airspace System. Periodically, operational tempo dictates that one, or more, slots at AIS goes unfilled, in early 2018 the 37th was able to capitalize on one of such “fall-out” slots and send a candidate to this outstanding course.
The instructor gleaned valuable knowledge to be shared both with the students he flies with and instructs as well as his fellow instructors to further their professional development. Furthermore, the knowledge transfers to other operational assignments, as AIS attendance qualifies the instructor to teach the Instrument Refresher Course to other aviators as part of their annual requirements.
AIS provides a solid foundation of instructional knowledge that reaches across the aviation spectrum, however programs such as the Instructor Enrichment Program (IEP) reach even deeper into niche aviation.
IEP flights, which is flying in a different airframe to better understand their mission and task, provide a unique insight to other airframes across the air force and, for first assignment instructor pilots (FAIPs), the opportunity to explore airframes before they are eligible for a major weapon system (MWS) assignment.
During the 19th Air Force directed T-6A operational pause earlier this year, Bengal Tiger instructors seized the opportunity to connect with other units and facilitate partnerships to learn more about the mission of the: A-29 Super Tucano, TH-1, C-130 Hercules Weapons Instructor Course (WIC), T-38C and T-1A.
The interaction with fellow aviators and instructors further refined a sense of camaraderie as Tiger instructor pilots came away with a better idea as to how the skills taught in the primary phase of pilot training translate into, not only the advanced phase, but beyond, to include an MWS WIC.
Similar to SOS, these flights offer a networking opportunity to ensure that future generations of aviators are best prepared to succeed in subsequent airframes by certifying that the training they receive early on is relevant and translatable. As important as a broad understanding of aerospace capabilities is, an equally critical piece of building an Air Force that is the envy of the world is the recruitment of talent in a competitive market.
Following flyover support for the Notre Dame vs. Ball State football game September 8, the Bengal Tigers were able to demonstrate the capabilities of the T-6A to 16 cadets of Notre Dame’s Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps Detachment 225, named the Flying Irish, through orientation flights.
Instructors from the squadron, teamed with Aircrew Flight Equipment and a 14th Medical Group Flight Surgeon to facilitate these flights. The event provided not only a unique insight of the airframe to the future of the United States Air Force, but also a keen look at how many cogs are required to turn the wheels of the mission to fly, fight and win.
The instructors were also able to provide a mentorship perspective as an officer first, beneficial to mentor and protégé alike. For the cadets, whether they pursue a career in Air Force aviation or in one of the many other fields, this flight will undoubtedly play a role in their understanding of the greater mission.
The military professional’s journey is never at an end as we are always learning, teaching, expanding our horizons and providing a foundation for those we are entrusted to cultivate.
Irrespective of AFSC, the current U.S. Air Force generation is responsible for developing the next generation, inclusive of leadership and professional skills. Critical thinking, career field expertise and innovation are all crucial to remain the world’s premier air, space and cyber force. Additionally, a firm grasp of the inner-working of the aviation infrastructure and a thorough understanding of our mission capabilities develop into improved utilization of assets and eliminates duplication of effort or missed opportunities in a contingency. Finally, investing in future airmen by providing a behind-the-scenes look at one facet of the Air Force pays dividends for both cadets and the instructors and support personnel that make such an event possible.
The 37th FTS has a long history in developing airpower professionals for today and the tomorrow. The human capital link that‘s the Bengal Tigers’ instructors and students is essential to the generations of airpower dominance the U.S. has come to expect of its Air Force. Seizing upon these, and other, force development initiatives is an investment that has immeasurable returns.