Former student shares deployment experiences with school staff, students

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  • Expeditionary Center Public Affairs

While the environments of ongoing military operations across the globe are constantly changing, instructors at the Expeditionary Operations School here strive to ensure their lessons prepare Airmen for today’s battlefield, not yesterday’s.

That’s why Lt. Col. Mike Morales visited the school Wednesday, fresh off a year-long assignment commanding an air advisor squadron in Afghanistan. During his visit with students and instructors from the Air Advisor Flight and the Advanced Study of Air Mobility program, Morales relayed the rewards and challenges of serving as an air advisor and working hand-in-hand with Afghanistan’s airmen.

He highlighted how air advising isn’t just about following instructions or checklists.

“The great thing about advising is that there is a lot of grey area, and it’s off the beaten path,” he said. “The opportunities are endless, but it’s not without its challenges and frustrations.”

He encouraged current students to dive into national defense strategy, because air advisors do much more than mentor their counterparts on primary duties—they represent the United States.

“Advising is never about the skills only,” he said. “No one is ever just a wrench turner.”

Morales said air advisors are making progress with Afghanistan’s airmen, especially those at the tactical-level, but it is important advisors understand they can’t rigidly copy-and-paste the U.S. Air Force.

“We’re not trying to make them like us,” he said, noting that trying to forcefully overcome cultural differences rarely proves successful. “Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, and the learning can only go so far.”

While Morales’s visit was intended for students to get a first-hand account from someone recently in their position, many of the school’s instructors listened attentively to the presentation as well.

And there is a special benefit to the school’s instructors absorbing what their returning student have to say.

“Only the students here today will hear him tell his stories, but we can tell his stories over and over again to future students,” said instructor Dr. David Ronan.

Ronan said he and his fellow instructors appreciate when former students offer feedback because it provides insight into demonstrated curricular strengths and opportunities for curricular improvement as well.

“It helps me reset my heading indicator,” he said.

Overall, Ronan said Morales’s experiences validated several key points of the air advisor curriculum, especially the emphasis on relational skills and positive attitudes—intangibles that are key to the success of an air advisor.

Morales was recently selected to  the White House Fellows program, a prestigious program in which select individuals spend a year working as full-time Fellows to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials.