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Forced change: Missile maintenance training undergoing historic transformation

373rd TRS Det. 22 missile maintenance training

Staff Sgt. Robert Gilsback, a facilities maintenance team instructor with the Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas-based 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 22, works with Airman Jose Esparza on an exercise to trace the course of power for the environmental control system of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch support building during initial qualification training at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Feb. 28, 2018. Through a collaborative effort, Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Global Strike Command determined formal training detachments were needed at the Air Force's three missile wings to ensure standardized training was being taught at each installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)

373rd TRS Det. 22 missile maintenance training

Airman 1st Class Spencer Rahn places a traverse cable in an olive drab canvas bag as one of many steps in the removal of a support structure for a guided missile maintenance platform in a Minuteman III launch tube trainer at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Feb. 28, 2018. Rahn and other Malmstrom missile maintainers now undergo initial qualification training at Detachment 21 of the 373rd Training Squadron, which is based at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Sheppard stood up three formal training detachments in late 2016 and began a new, structured missile maintenance training program for the Air Force's three missile wings. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)

373rd TRS Det. 22 missile maintenance training

Col. Scott Belanger, right, 82nd Training Wing vice commander, talks to the cadre of the 373rd Training Squadron's Detachment 22 about the historical role they are playing in reshaping training for missile maintainers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Feb. 28, 2018. Belanger as well as Lt. Col. Heather Cooley, 982nd Training Group deputy commander, and 982nd TRG Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Eric Dudash also visited F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, on Feb. 26, 2018, where Detachment 21 is also providing a more structured curriculum for Airmen receving intial qualification training in their mission-specific career field as missile maintenance Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)

373rd TRS Det. 22 missile maintenance training

Airman 1st Class Sean Keilitz, a student in facilities maintenance team initial qualification training in Detachment 22 of Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas-based 373rd Training Squadron, reviews a technical order for the removal of a support structure for a guided missile maintenance platform at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Feb. 28, 2018. Airmen in missile maintenance career fields at the Air Force's three missile wings will now attend formal training detachments such as Detachment 22 for initial skills training versus the legacy programs ran by each wing individually. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)

373rd TRS Det. 22 missile maintenance training

Airman 1st Class Antonio Madrid, left, assists Airman 1st Class Khalif Hines (on ladder) lower a support structure for a guided missile maintenance platform in the T-41 launch tube trainer facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Feb. 28, 2018. Madrid and Hines are undergoing initial qualification training for facilities maintenance, one of three career fields that maintain Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Montana – Since taking command of Air Education and Training Command in November 2017, Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast has urged its Airmen to be disruptive innovators as the First Command trains young men and women in a variety of Air Force Specialty Codes.

The two forms of innovation that keep you perpetually relevant are innovation that sustains what you are doing today and what is working, and then innovation that changes you into something that can do the same thing in a different game, a different world, a different economic curve,” he said recently.

One need not look any further than Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas-based Detachment 22 of the 373rd Training Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base, where a cadre of relatively new AETC instructors are part of the historical change and innovation in how the Air Force trains its missile maintainers. A structured environment is where Airmen — who will soon be responsible for keeping the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities mission-ready — will learn their craft not only at Malmstrom, but also Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Staff Sgts. Elija Snyder and Jamal Moss, instructors at Malmstrom, are on the leading edge of the changes taking place that is strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Before formal training detachments were set up at the three missile wing locations, the “training team” methodology of instructing young Airmen wasn’t consistent, or standardized, from one wing to the others. While the same concepts and tasks are essentially being taught, it’s the structure and the accountability that is making the difference in the quality of missile maintenance Airmen who are graduating from the courses.

The previous training platform fell under the purview of Air Force Global Strike Command.

“Overall, I think it’s been a great change and I love to see it because it’s forcing change where change wouldn’t happen otherwise,” said Snyder, who has been at Malmstrom for six years and has worked on the missile maintenance team. “I think that with the new structure and the way we train, it’s definitely an upgrade from what we used to do.”

The previous platform of instruction allowed for mission flexibility for the training mission of missile wings, but it often resulted in disrupting much-needed training for Airmen. The detachment instructors said if something was needed to support the primary missile maintenance mission, instructors would be pulled from the classroom to address needs out in the field or in a support function.

Under the umbrella of AETC and Sheppard’s training construct, once a missile maintenance Airman in one of the AFSC’s — missile maintenance, facilities maintenance and electrical mechanical — begins their initial qualification training, they are in the training program until they complete it, making the instruction more efficient and accountable, for both student and instructor. It also means equipment needed for specific courses are available, too.

Moss, a facilities maintenance instructor, said if they requested a specific piece of equipment from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom for a block of instruction, the wing is required, per a Memorandum of Agreement, to provide that equipment as quickly as possible so the detachment can meet the requirements of providing mission-capable Airmen.

“Now that our mission is instructing students, it’s a different kind of ‘this is our mission, that’s your mission.’ You can’t pull from our mission to support yours unless it is in a dire situation,” he said. “Global Strike is more self-sufficient, and it’s keeping us rolling. Now we don’t have to break down for code changes or inspections or anything like that. Our training days do not stop.”

Snyder said the new, structured environment will produce better results when it comes to training Airmen and their ability to retain the knowledge and tasks they will learn. He said the standardized lesson plans used at the three missile wings gives no leniency for what Airmen are being taught because the lesson plans have been developed by people at Sheppard.

Moss said he has an overwhelming sense of pride when it comes to instructing Airmen in the new curriculum, seeing them grasp the concepts being taught and eventually graduating. He said he knows the Airmen who have completed the course since training began in 2017 are better and ready to be part of the mission.

Snyder continued to go back to one word — change. Forced change at that. He said instructors now have the right amount of time consistently to train Airmen to the standards the customer wants. That, in turn, will mean more knowledgeable Airmen returning to their units ready to work.

The change Snyder spoke of didn’t happen on a whim. The Air Force identified a delay in initial qualification training for missile maintainers during a 2014 review. AETC and AFGSC eventually agreed that creating formal training detachments at the three missile wings would address the delay while at the same time providing a better end product to the wings.

The newly developed training curriculum rolled out for instruction at the training detachments in early 2017.