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Transforming the next generation of mission operation commanders

313th Training Squadron logo

313th Training Squadron logo


With the reemergence of near-peer competition, empowered non-state actors, and the potential for the erosion of U.S. military advantage, the Airmen graduating from the 313th Training Squadron’s Distributed Common Ground System Formal Training Unit are indispensable as some of our nation’s first-line intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance professionals. The first DCGS course of implementing a full gamut of active learning was the Mission Operations Commander course, named FTU-FORWARD with a goal of implementation into all seven crew position courses. Capt. Ric Rebulanan, 313th TRS DCGS FTU flight commander, has spearheaded efforts to meet this challenge with new, immersive training.

Capt. Rebulanan and his team of instructors, Capt. Brandon Jastal, 1st Lt. Joshua Garvison, and 1st Lt. Derek Drennan, just completed the most recent iteration of MOC training. In less than a month, this dream team has overhauled the student workbook, integrated two new web-based programs, and beta-tested the first seven days of what will be a two-and-a-half week immersive exercise. Their passion and enthusiasm for their craft are not lost on their students.

Breaking the typical training structure of PowerPoint slides, page-turner Interactive Multimedia Instruction programs, and one-way lectures, 14N MOC students now enter their weapon system training for their DCGS assignment on day one. After some online introductory lessons presented on a MilSuite webpage, the students begin making decisions about the mission at hand. In an exercise called KINGS, which spans the entire 19 days of instruction the exercise, while scripted, is not pre-determined to an outcome. It depends entirely on the decisions made by the MOCs along the way. Success and failure, good decisions and bad, are all teaching points and reinforce learning by immediately experiencing the effects of a decision.

The most recent graduates of Class 19011 raved about the new course.

Recent graduate, Lt. Col. Kelly Ihme, 161st Intelligence Squadron, noted the successful outcomes were, “largely related to the fact that all the instructors have at least two-plus years of real-world experience as MOCs. They are all passionate about teaching and they developed exercises that adapted to the students in real-time, so that individuals could be challenged at their learning level and areas of weakness were easier to identify. Then, those areas of weakness could be improved through individual instruction, group learning activities, and additional exercise time to ensure a student demonstrated the capability to incorporate their knowledge.”

An active learning exercise should be transparent to the students; it should be the norm, not the exception. The Nighthawks have captured this concept! Critical thinking from the time they stepped into the classroom to graduation day, the MOC students understood their decisions and actions were not just encouraged, but imperative if their mission was to be successful.

Additional 313 TRS staff helped conduct the final evaluations on MOC Students. One evaluator, in particular, Mr. Ronald James, was thoroughly impressed with how much the students knew and how well the evaluations went.

“I have been with the course since its conception 14 years ago, and that was the best evaluation I have ever seen to date,” said James, immediately following an evaluation. “In fact, at one point, I thought that Lt. Hoddy had a copy of the test scenario in front of her because of how quickly she recognized and responded to time-sensitive, mission-critical situations.”

Garvison, 497 Operations Support Squadron Chief of Training for Distributed Ground Station-1, is assigned as a temporary duty instructor at Goodfellow but currently hails from Langley AFB.

“Many people ask how we make changes to cultures across the Air Force. This is no truer than in the DCGS, where shifting cultures in ISR are making waves across the entire enterprise,” said Garvison. “I think cultures are created by the habits and interactions we have as communities within a system, not the product of the knowledge we have as individuals. This is a fundamental shift from the traditional model of Air Force intelligence training, where rote memorization and evaluation are normalized.

"The primary goal of FTU-FORWARD is to shift the focus away from knowledge and evaluation to habits and experience. Immerse students into an exercise, model and teach good behaviors, habits, and interactions, and students will come out the other side with a better foundational understanding of the material being taught. Moreover, they have a lot more fun in the process.”

With the improvements to the course, students can benefit from learning in a new and immersive way. 

"Being a MOC within the DCGS enterprise is one of few positions in the Air Force that offers young officers the regular opportunity to lead teams of experts and make substantial contributions to the intelligence community. The course now allows students to recognize that they can have a direct effect on an operational environment. Each of them will find themselves at their DCGS faced with the most resourceful and most technologically advanced adversaries the United States has ever faced. We must prepare the next generation to rise to the challenge."