As vice commander for the Air Force’s training operations, Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski balances the immediate training demands of today’s airmen with the need to create innovative development programs that build the leaders of tomorrow.
Every year, about 30,000 recruits from across the country enter the United States Air Force. Whether an officer or an enlisted man, the first exposure each recruit has to the Air Force is through the Air Education and Training Command (AETC).
One of the nine major commands within the Air Force, AETC is charged with education and training from the time a recruit enters service until he or she joins the nearly 700,000 active duty, National Guard, reserve and civilian forces. This key role has earned AETC the nickname, the First Command.
As vice commander, Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski is the second highest ranking officer at headquarters behind the commander, Gen. Stephen Lorenz. With a budget of just under $8 billion annually, AETC trains more than 340,000 students per year and operates on 13 bases with 88,000 active duty personnel, reservists, National Guard, civilians and contractors, and 1,485 aircraft.
“We’re that pipeline where we take young men and women off the street and get them into the Air Force culture, have them understand what we’re all about and also then give them that skill that they’re going to need to support what the Air Force mission is,” Przybyslawski said.
AETC began its mission in 1942 to provide basic military and aviation training as part of the mobilization effort for World War II. Now headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, AETC also incorporates the Air Force Recruiting Service and Air University. That core mission to recruit and prepare airmen continues today.
“Our whole mission is to make sure we’re providing the level of education and training to make these new airmen the best they can be,” Przybyslawski said. “‘Developing America’s airmen today for tomorrow’ is our vision statement, and that’s what we’re constantly trying to do.”
A product of the system, Przybyslawski is in many ways well-suited to his role at AETC. After beginning his career as an enlisted man, he attended and graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1976 before receiving his commission as an officer. A bomber pilot, Przybyslawski has flown the B-52, B-1 and B-2 (Stealth) bombers and has commanded several Air Force operating units, from squadrons to groups to wings.
“The education piece, training pieces [start] raising the bar in the transition between tactical training and experience into the strategic realm,” he said. “As you grow up in the Air Force, more and more responsibilities are given to you.”
In addition to providing its own strategic training through Air University, the Air Force also sends officers to outside education courses. Przybyslawski attended executive programs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, among others.
“It’s a great opportunity to sit in with representatives from all walks of life and talk about the same kind of problems and how you can share those problems,” he said. “The more you learn, the more you realize there’s no new problem out there. Everyone’s got the same problems, just different solutions.”
There are four categories of personnel in the Air Force: enlisted airmen, officers, civilian personnel and citizen soldiers (reserve and National Guard). Out of the total budget of about $8 billion, AETC spends $1.6 billion directly on recruitment, training and education across more than 250 career specialties and more than 5,000 training courses. In 2008, there were nearly 400,000 graduates of education and training programs.
This broad development creates challenges as the Air Force balances its need to quickly and efficiently bring trainees to competency while also indoctrinating them into the Air Force culture.
“We’ve been striving the last couple of years to learn from corporate America on this,” Przybyslawski said. “The most significant piece of our education and training that goes on is brick-and-mortar: schoolhouses. We’re learning very quickly that’s not the most efficient way.
“Does that mean everybody gets an iPod and we go to podcasts? No, because you’ve got to remember that we’re taking people from all across the United States and trying to train them in our culture also. So distance learning is not the key to success here. We don’t want all our young folks sitting in their rooms on the computer learning about the Air Force. It’s that balance that we’re constantly being challenged with.”
AETC also is challenged to demonstrate the impact of its training efforts on the organization at-large. While specific ROI measures are different between corporate and military organizations, the need to measure and quantify is consistent.
“What’s the quality of our command’s product? When that new F-16 pilot shows up in his combat squadron, is he ready to fly combat? When that electrician shows up, can that electrician power up the emergency generator and get it online?” Przybyslawski said. “How do you develop objective measures of how well we’re doing? If you can articulate a return on investment for that, then you become much more powerful and then the rest of the Air Force will pay attention.”
Like any large organization, the Air Force struggles to standardize and streamline training across the many different operating units. Preparing airmen for deployment to war adds an extra level of urgency and importance to that effort. Many Air Force commands provide pre-deployment training, Przybyslawski said, and a key effort at AETC is to identify redundancies, streamline training and measure savings, not just in cost, but also in lost productivity.
AETC already has seen significant time savings by eliminating classroom training in favor of a distance-learning system for some required ongoing training. According to Przybyslawski, AETC has nearly 1,800 distance learning courses and more than 800,000 user accounts that contributed to 6 million course completions in 2008.
While distance learning provides noted efficiencies, AETC is testing a blended learning model, particularly in mid-level courses such as the squadron officer school (SOS), designed for captains and senior lieutenants. Traditionally, this course took place over eight weeks at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
“The beauty of it is, for eight weeks they get to work with their peers and create their networks. I still am in contact with many of the folks that I went to SOS with. So you don’t want to lose that networking capability, but is eight weeks the right amount of time? Can something be done online that maybe breaks it down to a four-week residency course?” Przybyslawski said.
While contending with the challenges inherent in running a training organization that serves the diverse needs of 700,000 people worldwide, Przybyslawski and the AETC staff also are setting their sights on the future.
That future includes increasingly sophisticated technology, such as the Predator, an unmanned, remotely operated aircraft used to carry out reconnaissance and strike missions. The success of the Predator program has created a demand for more operators, forcing the Air Force to take pilots out of other aircraft.
“We need to create a pipeline for unmanned vehicles that can sustain that career field,” he said. “Right now, we have kind of like temporary help, where we’re grabbing people from all over the Air Force to do that.”
AETC launched a test program in February that took 10 non-pilots and created a learning process for them to become operators. They will begin a second course in July with the ultimate goal of creating a talent pool to meet this growing need.
“We’re taking folks [who are] not even part of the culture, and we’re trying to create in them the aviation air-sense and the employment of the weapon system,” Przybyslawski said.
The nature of unmanned programs, with an operator sitting in a controlled environment, has opened up another source of potential talent: retirees or other pilots who have been physically disqualified from manned flight.
Next-generation technology is intricately tied into the generational challenges facing learning organizations. Like many of its counterparts in the corporate world, the Air Force is looking for ways to bridge the gap to the next generation of learners.
“Our boss, General Lorenz, refers to all of us as the digital immigrants, as opposed to the digital natives,” Przybyslawski said. “Trying to catch up to that is always a challenge because there’s a different language.”
He’s seen that language gap firsthand in watching the classified feeds from Predator operations. Operators actually have created their own lexicon to aid communication.
“As I look at these chat lines, I have no clue what they’re talking about. But they do, and they’re employing a weapons system at the same time,” Przybyslawski said. “It’s fascinating to see that. Now I see what goes on at the Academy: They’re on a network so they can collaborate worldwide. And our Air University has gone to that same concept.”
That networked collaboration creates significant challenges for a top-down organization such as the Air Force, a challenge that is magnified by the potential sensitivity of the information being shared.
“If two explosive ordinance folks are collaborating on MySpace on how to disassemble a roadside bomb, do you think the bad guys can listen in on that, or find out what our tactics, techniques and procedures are?” Przybyslawski said. “It’s a very serious business, and you have to dissuade people from doing that. In their zeal for education and learning, they’re getting out ahead of us because of their generation, and we’re struggling to keep that controlled.”
To address the need for more collaboration but also maintain an acceptable level of security, the Air Force has created MyBase, a secure virtual environment within Second Life. While it’s still under development, there are multiple applications for collaboration, recruiting, leadership development and training.
“On a more secure net, you can actually conduct base exercises, where you can have all the parties participate in a natural disaster that occurs on the base, and practice that procedure that way without disrupting what’s actually going on on the base,” Przybyslawski said.
Ultimately, the First Command at AETC is charged with training the airmen needed for the future, but also for passing on the culture of the Air Force to the next generation of leaders. And while AETC isn’t driven by the goal of increasing profits or growing revenue share, Przybyslawski said it is held accountable for an important organizational measure.
“We’re not driven by the bottom line of profitability. But we still have to support the war efforts, [and] we have to make sure we continue the development of these folks to become future leaders of the Air Force.”Filed under: Leadership Development, Learning Delivery, Technology