By Scott Prater
Change at the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons here has come at a break-neck pace.
During the past 18 months, the combined squadrons have taken on four new missions and welcomed a new commander (1 SOPS). Despite these additions, they face many of the same manpower issues as their fellow squadrons inside the 50th Space Wing.
It only makes sense then that wing and group leaders here sought to improve efficiency at the squadron level and proficiency at the operator level. Culminating a nearly year-long planning process, the squadrons, known as Team 8-ball, initiated an alternative operator training program known as Mission Certified Operator during the first week in December.
“We were really looking for increased efficiency and flexibility in a new training program,” said Maj. Tim Paget, 7th Space Operations Squadron alpha flight commander. “The old way is simply not working well for us. It is administrative heavy, which limits our ability to focus on proficiency.”
Col. John Shaw, 50th Operations Group commander, tasked the squadrons to create a new training program last December. As a result a 10-to-12 member group of training, evaluation, weapons and tactics professionals formed to study training methods, analyze alternatives and brainstorm new ideas.
A few months later the group issued the basics of what eventually became MCO. From there, Paget and members of the group began explaining and justifying MCO ideas to Air Force leaders at varying levels.
Paget pointed out that the legacy training program, Combat Mission Ready, is loaded down with detailed requirements of how the squadron is supposed to train and evaluate operators.
“Generally speaking, following these administrative requirements is very time consuming, even for a program that has existed for a long time,” Paget said. “We have four new mission programs. They change quickly and they have short mission lives, so getting all the administrative requirements in order becomes too difficult for something that doesn’t fit our mission set.”
Paget explained that trainers also felt handcuffed by instructions that required them to follow a specific lesson plan for an entire year. The MCO plan, however, increases flexibility because it allows the squadron commander to set the pace of how and what types of things are being trained. Under this new program trainers have the latitude to address hot topics or weaknesses discovered by operations crew forces.
“We’re still using lesson plans,” Paget said. “We’re just not restricted to when we have to present the material. Also, where possible, we will use manufacturer provided training materials, rather than creating our own to meet a certain format.”
MCO also removes the labor intensive requirement of having scripts for performance evaluations and training. Instead, the evaluator or trainer will be armed with a list of tasks they need to present. The squadron will also maintain a library of mock scenarios for each task the evaluator/trainer will use.
“Colonel Shaw gave a great analogy during one of our meetings with leadership that compared MCO to teaching a teenager to drive a car,” Paget said. “One doesn’t need to follow a script while teaching someone to drive, you just get in the car and do it. Now, instead of spending hours upon hours writing scripts, our evaluators and instructors can be on the ops floor evaluating and training, where they belong.”
Paget explains that Team 8-Ball will use more of a plug-and-play approach to training.
“Sticking with our driving analogy, we might create a mock scenario on the task of parallel parking,” he said. “Our training card might have information such as: find an empty parking lot and a couple of empty plastic garbage cans, space the cans 1.5 car lengths apart, etc.”
Though the squadrons can use a limited system mockup, they have and will continue to train operators through on-the-job training on live systems and in classroom settings. Team 8-ball leaders (1 and 7 SOPS commanders) contend the new system will eventually show itself to be a superior training system for their specific missions.
“This is an innovative program which places a majority of emphasis on operator proficiency,” said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS commander. “It also gives commanders more span of control and flexibility over their crew force’s training, evaluation and management.”
Team 8-Ball has assembled an implementation team and will begin training squadron members under MCO during January, with full program implementation occurring by March.