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A year in review: State of the command

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Chip Pons)

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Chip Pons)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Just over a year into his command, Air Education and Training Command’s Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson reflected upon the highlights and challenges of this past year, what it means to be a First Command Airman, and where he aspires to lead the men and women of AETC during his time as their commander.

“I can't believe it has already been a year,” Roberson stated. “What a phenomenal privilege and honor it is to be the commander…especially during this year.”

“I’ve had the chance to get out and see the breadth of our command and been to all the bases,” he continued. “The biggest thing for me has been interacting with the people. The Airmen -- active, Guard, Reserve and the civilians -- who make a difference and make sure our mission is done. There has been so much accomplished, really important, foundational issues that AETC has been able to take on for our whole Air Force.”

Challenges and Successes

Roberson knows full well that the challenges the Air Force faces are directly impacted by the work of Airmen in AETC. He was therefore proud to announce the accomplishment of a Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Secretary of the Air Force tasking; successfully accessioning over 31,000 new active-duty airmen into our force.

”The biggest challenge we have taken on was to bring in more Airmen than what was scheduled and only have nine months to accomplish that task,” Roberson said. “The SECAF and CSAF came to AETC and tasked us to try to get from 310,000 airman in our force to 317,000.

“All of our recruiters, our basic military training and technical training instructors and our systems that are in place had to go into overdrive to make this happen,” he enthusiastically continued. “I am ecstatic to be able to say that we not only broke that challenge… we shattered it.”

Roberson also reflected on the public declaration of the initial operational capability of the F-35 Lightning II and the efforts that First Command Airmen put forth to ensure that successfully happened.

“One of the great things in AETC over the last year was IOC for the F-35,” Roberson stated. “The training of all of those pilots and maintainers was instrumental and critical to making sure our Air Force could declare the F-35 as operational.”

When the Secretary of Defense requested more remotely piloted aircraft pilots, Roberson and AETC accepted that challenge head on.

”This gave us the opportunity to fix both foundational and fundamental issues in how we accomplish RPA training,” said Roberson. “Over the course of a year, we were able to take a step back and put in place what we needed to do to double the number of RPA pilots we produce.

“As we accepted this challenge, we have increased our annual RPA pilot production from 192 to 384,” he continued. “This month, we are commencing our first four enlisted RPA pilots, which is fundamental to our Air Force operations and history.”

Another huge success this past year was the continued execution of the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE) and core developmental programs, specifically Airmen’s Week following graduation from BMT.

“We have changed the culture of our Air Force starting with our newest Airmen,” Roberson said in reference to the creation of Airmen’s Week. “The infusion of professional development into all of our programs is really making a difference and has been a tremendous success.”

Implementation of Priorities

Just a few months after Roberson assumed responsibility of the First Command, he released his 2016 Air Education and Training Command Strategic Plan in which he outlines his four major focus areas: Motivational Mission Accomplishment, Compassionate Care of our Airmen and Families, Innovation, and Leadership.

“Those four focus areas essentially drive most of the emphasis and effort we put toward making sure we are accomplishing our mission and taking care of our people,” Roberson stated.

“Seeing our Airmen dive into the individual challenges that AETC is facing has been remarkable,” he continued. “They are making very focused, deliberate efforts to motivate while we do our mission and to really reach out to take care of our families, because time and time again, we remind ourselves that we recruit Airmen, but we retain families. We are not only trying to attract the best and brightest to become Airmen, but we are doing everything we can to keep our Airmen in the Air Force.”

Roberson noted that while his priorities were designed specifically for the First Command, they are nested with the priorities of the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

“We deliberately look at making sure we are aligned with priorities that start with the national military strategy and work their way down to us,” said Roberson. “What makes our priorities unique of course is the focus on training Airmen in the best way we possibly can, and that is always a challenge.

“How do we keep implementing technology? How do we become more innovative to give the best possible training to all of our Airmen? We look at these types of questions every single day to adapt and bring on new ways of training to ensure we are in tune with our new Airmen.”

Being a First Command Airman

Just like every Airman adds to the Air Force’s melting pot, every major command has a distinct mission and set of standards unique to them. AETC is no exception.

“We have such an impact on everyone who comes into the Air Force,” said Roberson. “We get to take people straight off of the street and immerse them in what it means to be an Airman. We develop and forge them into becoming the best Airman they can be by providing opportunities for the rest of their lives that they literally can't get any other place around the world.

“The First Command is a critical command,” he continued. “It is a foundational and fundamental command and it is where airpower starts. Whether you are a student in training or one of our instructors, everyone involved is critically important to the success of AETC.”

Roberson strongly advises new AETC Airmen to plant their roots deep, blossom where they land, and watch what happens.

“Become really engaged in what you are doing,” Roberson urged. “Learn your job, become a part of the team, and understand the role that you play in accomplishing the mission. Every person within AETC is critical for mission accomplishment…there are no extras here.”

Aspirations for the Coming Year

While Roberson reflected on the exceptional year the men and women of AETC have accomplished, he also looked forward to the coming year and beyond.

“There is a lot that I am hoping to accomplish before I leave this command,” said Roberson. “Some of the more critical goals are continuing all the lessons learned in BMT- Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All You Do. In addition, we need a review of all of our training and operations in order to institutionalize them so it becomes a routine part of how we do business.

“Infusing PACE and professional development for all of our Airmen throughout AETC is another area that I'm going to continue to push until I leave,” he continued.
With the programs set in place to help accomplish these goals, Roberson acknowledges that nothing can be accomplished without Airmen.

“It always comes back to our Airmen,” he said. “What I'm hoping to achieve before I leave is we continue to work hard to increase the value of an AETC assignment. That the importance of what we do gets recognized by the entire Air Force community and that we do everything we can to take care of our Airmen and their families, in a way that motivates people to be a part of our team.”

With Roberson’s first year in command in the books, the lasting impressions from the men and women of the First Command speak volumes to the innovative and inspiring community of which Roberson feels privileged to be a part.

“I would like to thank all of the members of AETC for the unbelievable work over the last year,” Roberson humbly said. “It is a privilege for me to be a part of this command because every day we are doing very important work. It is through the hard work and effort of all of our Airmen that were able to achieve this vital mission.

“What we do is so critical and fundamental,” he concluded. “Airpower really does start right here in AETC and every Airman that is a part of making that happen is doing a tremendous service to our country and our Air Force.”