Command perspective: Expeditionary Center commander discusses charter, college credit and the future

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
Celebrating two years since he took the reins of leadership here, Maj.Gen. Kip Self, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, has seen the center through a myriad of changes.

General Self became the commander on May 24, 2007, and has never looked back. In his terms, "We don't dwell on the past -- we build upon it." His goal -- "prepare our Airmen for any contingency we put them in ensuring 'Airpower.From the Ground Up!'"

In a recent interview, the general assessed the center and shared his vision for the unit that offers advanced contingency skills training for Airmen before they deploy. During a wide-ranging interview, he discussed the signing of the Expeditionary Center Charter by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the importance of center students earning college credit for classes, and recruiting exceptional Airmen to become instructors at the center. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

How is having the USAF Expeditionary Center Charter now a crucial piece to
the Center's future success?

General Self: The Charter delineates our responsibilities to ensure our Airmen are ready to survive and operate in any contingency environment. That could be combat or it could be responding to a natural disaster. When (General Schwartz) talks about us being "all in," it is here at the Center that we're developing that Airman to be prepared to operate "all in" at any time with our Joint, Coalition and Inter-agency partners. For this reason
the quality of what we deliver must be relevant and excellent without exception. The Expeditionary Center's access to the ranges of Fort Dix and the facilities of Navy Lakehurst gives it the best of Joint Basing to accomplish the advanced training mission. We have the ability to do just-in-time (JIT) training to meet any joint expeditionary tasking (JET) and we ensure a standardized capability is delivered to the warfighter
increasing their success.

Just as important, the Expeditionary Center's vision goes well beyond contingency skills training. It also advances our mobility Airmen in their core specialties. The Expeditionary Center provides the training for Air Mobility Command's core specialty of "Global Reach Laydown." From the robust enroute system to the contingency response capability that achieves access in austere locations, the Expeditionary Center provides the individual formal training and command and control education ensuring AMC's ability to execute.

Some Airmen aren't familiar with or have preconceived notions about the Center. As the commander, how important is it to have Airmen know what the Center is and what they will get for their training dollar?

General Self: Thanks to senior leader involvement, more Airmen are getting the advanced skills training they need before deploying. It's critical that wing commanders and below know about the Center and what it can do to prepare their Airmen. We are 100 percent effective when we get to the Airman before they deploy and we remain relevant by incorporating lessons learned into emerging tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). The weight of effort is on getting the Airmen to EC to give this advantage. There's a combat capability that exists in all Airmen, regardless of what specialty you have displayed above your left breast pocket, the Expeditionary Center teaches you how to employ it.

Traditionally, the aircrew member is perceived as the Air Force's warfighter, but in today's environment we are finding the combat support Airman is the Airman at risk. That's validated by the number of casualties we've seen since Sept. 11, 2001. This is where institutions and professional organizations like the Expeditionary Center are essential to
focusing on that combat support Airman. Whether it's a public affairs Airman, an aerial porter, or a services or communications Airman -- you name it-- more than 100 different Air Force specialties come through the Center for training. Our success will be measured on how many lives we save or wounded we avoid. We feel we've made a large stride in doing that over the 23,000 graduates a year. When I say we're "all in," it means we're "all in" the fight and we're "all in" to get our Airmen back home to their families safely and in one piece. The value of the Expeditionary Center is their
accountability to make that happen.

A year and a half ago, the Expeditionary Center decided to go above and beyond the standards the center had set for instructor qualifications. That decision to improve instructor credentials created a more standardized system. What was the driving force to ensure all accredited instructors have Community College of the Air Force degrees?

General Self: The Air Force trains at all levels. Starting with Air Education and Training Command, they train at the foundational level, building our Airmen in basic military training. The wings -- our tactical units -- continue to train to keep our readiness level up. However, we also need that JIT training - those advance skills that tend to be perishable
over time. These are skills you don't practice all the time, but you may need in a specific situation -- that's the essence of the Expeditionary Center.

So, where do you find the cadre who can provide that just-in-time advanced training? That's what sets the Expeditionary Center apart. The ability to build a cadre -- Airmen who are totally dedicated to other Airmen who are going out the door tomorrow to the fight -- must have the essential skills and credibility to impart instruction. The way to do that is to ensure that not only are they physically capable, but professionally capable as well.
You do that through accreditation. You accept validation and evaluation to build your cadre force. Our students actually gain college credit for attending our courses.

So who cares if you get college credit? I'll tell you who cares -- it's the Airman, and that is the focus of our effort. The majority of people who pass through the Expeditionary Center are in an enlisted grade. Those college credits are essential to their development and a real focus area of our Air Force.

You've often talked about the joint environment and the Air Force's role in it. How is the Expeditionary Center tying in training to support the joint and coalition environments in not only the contingency skills training, but also the mobility air forces training?

General Self: You cannot operate today without being astute on joint capabilities. You have to be an integrated partner. Integration is not the end all, you have to be value-added. The mission is only successful if work as a team and capitalize on our strengths. Teamwork, as a term, is often times overused, but it plays an essential part in our success in contingency operations. When we work alongside the Army, Marines and Navy shoulder-to-shoulder as a partner, we have to be aware of their capabilities
and support them. We have to make them aware of our capabilities and show them what the Air Force brings to the fight. But more tactically, where our combat support Airmen are working alongside our sister services, they have to have the appropriate skills to be accepted and trusted. This is what the center provides -- the tools to bridge that gap.

The center's training not only provides the overall picture of the integration piece of what our combat support Airmen do alongside combat support assets of the Navy, Army and Marines, but also to further that mission. They bring that with them -- the knowledge of the Air Force capability -- the command and control, the global reach, the combat strike -- all those missions are ingrained in an EC-trained Airman.

It's known that that you read all the critiques from every student who comes through the Expeditionary Center. What feedback -- from both students and instructors -- do you get about the center's quality of training?

General Self: That is correct. I review every class critique as they come through. They are also reviewed by our two commandants, because we live and breathe on the success of our instruction. There's no doubt about that -- whether it's in the field or in the classroom. If we are not constantly improving, we are falling behind. We are only as good as the last class we taught.

One of the strengths of the Expeditionary Center is our ability to turn a course very rapidly and then adjust it and adapt it to what the warfighter needs or the functional manager requires. That starts with feedback. It's not just from the students, but also feedback given to and received from the functional and combatant commander on the quality of our graduates in the field.

So that multi-level feedback is essential to our course development and reaction. You take that feedback and then you are able to develop TTPs that are relevant to the warfighter. The CSAF has assigned that task to the Expeditionary Center to make sure that we have not only collected, but also disseminated those TTPs to the field.

How do the combat skills and other training the Expeditionary Center offers adjust to what's happening in the field?

General Self: We need to consider all units that provide training. Our goal right now is to look at the Joint world and integrate Air Force capabilities. I've spent a lot of time working with the Air Force Warfare Center learning how they do business and emulating their professionalism. We have a lot to learn from them. As we stand up the Expeditionary Center to really do "airpower from the ground up," there is a direct relationship to what the Air Force Warfare Center does in terms of air combat. We need to expand our relationship with them so we don't have duplication and so we clearly understand the continuum from combat support to air operations. We need to provide that total picture to the warfighter-- a full continuum of capability. That's the beauty of our two centers -- one is focused on air operations while the other is focused on combat support.

If you were a student coming here for ACST, how would you evaluate the Expeditionary Center?

General Self: I wish I would have come to the Expeditionary Center for the training we have now. I came in 2000 and was a student in Phoenix Readiness, but things have changed since then. We've added a maturity of discipline and accountability to the process under the Expeditionary Center umbrella. That's the difference.

I wish I could go back and have the training that ACST provides before I deployed. Early on my predeployment training was ad hoc. I did the best that I could and I really had to learn it after boots on the ground in the AOR. We can't operate that way, it puts Airmen at risk doing that.

Rapid responders like contingency response wngs train continuously are ready to go, but what about everybody else? What about the masses of our combat support? Our expectations out of those Airmen are really high. We need institutions like the Expeditionary Center to ensure their capability is matched with their tasking.

So I wish we had the Expeditionary Center earlier but I'm so glad we have it now for our Airmen going out the door. We owe it to them and we owe it to their families. I think the proof is in the results we've had. It's a confidence builder if nothing else. It exposes you to things you've never seen before.

What is your vision for the Expeditionary Center?

General Self: The cadre that's here now since we became the Expeditionary Center in 2007 is the initial cadre. It's always exciting to be the initial cadre because you get to build it the way you want it. And so two years ago, we started on this adventure to be recognized as a center of excellence for expeditionary skills. I think we've achieved that.

We've had the Secretary of the Air Force visit, we've had the ability to brief the CSAF, and we've had the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force here. Included in the DV list were leaders from several joint agencies as well -- so the word is getting out on what we can deliver. People are just now beginning to understand the capabilities the Expeditionary Center provides. A large part of our credibility is when the chief of staff signed our charter tasking us to be that advanced Center of Excellence for expeditionary skills, to provide those tactics, techniques and procedures our young Airmen need to be successful in any contingency and make sure we disseminate them to the field.

The vision for the future is to step forward and provide a greater joint and interagency focus. We have to be able to deliver the "Airman Warrior" as well as the "Airman Ambassador". Irregular Warfare includes kinetic and building partnership options. We bring forward both Air Force capabilities to today's fight. Providing the continuum of capabilities is where we need to go.