AFIT using proactive education to enhance civil engineer readiness

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Institute of Technology’s Civil Engineer School recently completed the inaugural offering of the Engineer Readiness Planning Seminar.

The four-day course is designed to provide tactical civil engineer leaders with the skills and knowledge to plan and execute team readiness events within the Air Force Generation deployment cycle.

The first class of students included 35 officer and enlisted members from 18 installations with teams postured to deploy in AFFORGEN 25.1 and 25.2.

“Course content focused on planning realistic and relevant training within the AFFORGEN cycle, establishing relationships across bases, and creating custom 12-month training plans and exercise scenarios,” said Capt. James Frye, a course director at the Civil Engineer School.

Based on the success of this initial offering, which ended Jan. 19, the Civil Engineer School has scheduled the next offering this summer for teams postured to deploy in AFFORGEN 26.1.

Addressing the training gap

The Engineer Readiness Planning Seminar was created in response to a recognized gap in Air Force training. Traditionally, the Air Force has relied on a “crowdsourcing” model for deployments, bringing together individuals from various bases to form teams on short notice.

However, the AFFORGEN cycle introduces a strategic shift by assigning units to teams before deployment, allowing more time for training and team-building.

“2023 provided tremendous change for Air Force combat support readiness, including AFFORGEN implementation, force-design updates, mission command doctrine, combat support training ranges and evolution in enterprise training programs like Silver Flag,” said Lt. Col. Craig Poulin, director of the Civil Engineer School’s Department of Engineering Management. “Across all of these changes, one thing is clear: We need tactical leaders that can plan and execute effective training for their postured teams.”

Motivated by Air Force operational imperatives “resilient basing” and “readiness to deploy and fight,” the Civil Engineer School developed and executed the new seminar in just four months.

“In July 2023, the CE School identified a force-development gap for tactical-level leaders: There was no course or seminar to teach Airmen how to plan and execute training,” Poulin said. “Within months, the team developed a vision for a new seminar, secured senior leader support and began planning for the inaugural offering.”

The course specifically targets civil engineers in the AFFORGEN cycle’s RESET stage, which is about a year and a half before deployment. During this time, small teams of civil engineers are postured for deployment.

The course empowers team leaders to take ownership of their team’s readiness by developing and validating training plans before they deploy.

“For this course, we had students from a multitude of bases that were postured on the same AFFORGEN team,” Frye said. “We organized the classroom so members on those teams sat together, worked together and learned together. Having the audience structured this way was beneficial because that’s how we will work operationally downrange.”

Course structure and topics covered

The Engineer Readiness Planning Seminar is divided into three phases:

The requirements phase focuses on identifying team training needs based on Air Force instructions, mandated requirements and the specific deployment location. A unique feature of the course is the classified briefings students received from Headquarters Air Force on threats in various theaters and perspectives from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear and explosive ordnance disposal specialists.

“We went really in-depth with discussions on what’s going on in the world, and I think that really set the stage for the students on why they were here,” Frye said. “The briefings enabled the students to think critically about their deployment location and what their team needs to be good at. So, if we are going to a Pacific island and I have electricians, they probably need to be spun up on foreign electrical systems in the region and how to troubleshoot them.”

During the planning phase, students analyze a prioritized list of their team’s training requirements and create a 12-month actionable training plan.

The execution phase covers the development of a master sequence of events list – the script for the training exercise. At the end of the course, students present their training plans and MSELs to their instructors and peers for feedback.

“Adapting sister-service doctrine, the seminar’s content encompassed the life cycle of training—from requirement identification to planning to execution to documentation,” Poulin said. “Throughout, the seminar emphasized the importance of character, competence, capability and cohesion to build the team’s mission capacity within the AFFORGEN cycle.”

The Engineer Readiness Planning Seminar marks a crucial shift from the Air Force’s historical reliance on fragmented internal training, said Senior Master Sgt. Austin Henrichsen, director of the Silver Flag Exercise Program at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

“By introducing deliberate instruction with readiness concepts, standardizing training plans and empowering units to measure progress, we enhance our strategic preparedness against evolving threats from any near-peer challenger,” he said.

Course benefits and outcomes

Some key benefits of the course include:

  • Targeted audience: The course focuses on civil engineer teams that are postured in an upcoming AFFORGEN phase, ensuring the training is relevant and immediately applicable.
  • Networking opportunities: By bringing together civil engineers from different bases, the course provides valuable networking opportunities and allows them to learn from each other’s experiences.
  • Dedicated time and focus: The four-day course provides dedicated time to work on training plans and exercises, which is often difficult to do in the midst of regular duties.
  • Realistic scenarios: The course incorporates real-world threats and scenarios into training plan development, making it more engaging and effective.

The new course has been praised for its effectiveness in preparing civil engineers for deployment.

“To outpace potential adversaries, we must revolutionize classroom instruction, focusing on exercise plans and requirements,” Henrichsen said. “Robust home-station training becomes imperative, exposing our Airmen to the discomforts of war, encouraging confidence and competence, and fostering interoperability mindsets. AFIT once again leads the charge with this cutting-edge curriculum, ensuring our forces remain agile and ready…anytime.”

Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Brooks, Readiness and Emergency Management Flight superintendent for the 7th Civil Engineer Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, highlighted the intangible skills students gained from the course.

“This course created a CE-centric ecosystem of shared-training best practices within postured teams, allowing cross-collaboration, shared data-tracking and analysis tools, and allowed actual AFFORGEN team problem-solving and teamwork opportunities,” he said. “These ‘soft’ skills will help units create ‘outside-of-the-box’ thinking to better prepare for any conflict. Although the next conflict may present a new operational environment, our core CE fundamentals won’t change and our reliance on each other and combat-support teams is critical for success.

“This course is very much needed within every CE unit and even any combat-support team. Team AFIT crushed this and I am looking forward to the next offering.”

The Engineer Readiness Planning Seminar is a valuable resource for civil engineers preparing for deployment. By focusing on team readiness well in advance through a targeted educational program, the course addresses a crucial training gap. Success of the new seminar underscores the Civil Engineer School’s commitment to adapting and enhancing its training methodologies to meet the evolving demands of modern warfare.

“As the Air Force evolves force design and posturing, the Civil Engineer School will continuously update curriculum to prepare leaders for their critical role in building ready teams,” Poulin said.