This was published in The Air & Space Power Journal
In 2006 a delegation from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) visited US Air Force (USAF) facilities, including the USAF Academy in Colorado; Air University at Maxwell AFB, Alabama; and Bolling AFB, Washington, DC.
Chinese Servicemen’s Views of USAF Airmen and Education
“Understanding US Airmen from Small Details”
Sr Col Qigui Wang,
PLAAF Political Commissar
What combat-training objectives, officer-development structure, and military-base culture does the USAF adopt? Some details that I noticed during our visit to the United States may provide answers.
The US military promotes the notion of joint operations, pursuing the vision of “global reach, global awareness, global power” and training its soldiers in real combat environments. One lasting impression that I had from our US trip was that the US military pays great attention to developing capabilities for joint operations. It believes that war is not the business of any single service, theater, force, or soldier; instead, winning a war requires the joint operation of all people in all dimensions. Each theater has a unified command made up of all the US services. A mixture of students from these services attends training in military schools. For major operations, all services join to form the centralized command. Even in logistics and deployments of armaments within a theater, the US military uses joint supply methods. The USAF designs training with combat requirements and effects in mind. For example, at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, we watched a number of C-130 cargo planes frequently taking off and landing. An officer explained that they were sharpening their skills at landing on short runways in order to strengthen capabilities to project forces and supplies quickly in complex situations.
US armed forces do not have political units or political officers. Instead, each organic unit has one chaplain. Yet, political education and moral mentoring successfully merge into the service members’ daily work and lives. In every location, we saw the national flag, service ensigns, and unit banners flying. From the Department of Defense in the Pentagon to a wing on a base—indeed everywhere—we found museums and heritage offices. Meeting rooms, hallways, and lobbies serve as halls of fame, decorated with photos of previous leaders, war heroes, trophies, and all kinds of souvenirs. At Air University in Alabama, a museum dedicated to the heritage of enlisted members displays war heroes and their brave deeds, creating a full image of heroism. Some of the US military bases we visited, such as Maxwell AFB and Bolling AFB, are named after war heroes. But we did not see many slogans posted on the walls of their buildings, except perhaps one that read “Integrity, Service, Excellence.”
The US military has a clear vision for personal development. No later than 18 months after their promotion, company-grade officers must go to junior-officer schools to take a six-week course. Then, for every step up, they must attend military schools, some as long as 12 weeks, some as short as two to three weeks. Field-grade officers also must attend military schools for strategic courses as a prerequisite for promotion. Even general officers must go back to school to take more advanced courses and participate in joint-operation war games. A second lieutenant needs to attend at least 10 trainings at different times before he or she reaches the rank of brigadier general. During the past few years, the US military has added a good deal of curriculum about information-warfare theory and the art of command. The schools invite high-ranking officers with combat experience and renowned specialists to give lectures and speeches. In order to increase their joint-operation capabilities, officers rotate every two to three years, either dispatched to operational forces at the front or assigned to military schools or back offices. Currently, most USAF field-grade officers have had experience in two to three weapon systems and professional positions. The development of noncommissioned officers (NCO) is equally systematic. To progress from the lowest rank to the highest, sergeants must complete a training cycle every five years, on average. Course length ranges from eight days to 18 weeks each time.
During our 15-day stay in the United States, we also observed that the beautifully landscaped military bases attract highly talented people. The USAF bases, military academies, and flying-wing camps that we visited were all very well laid out, with buildings dotted neatly with trees and flowers. The people we met, whether the commandant, a sergeant, or a student, all appeared motivated, proud, and self-confident. Individuals with whom we talked expressed their willingness to deploy to the most dangerous battlefields for the most treacherous taskings and to die for their country. Maj Gen Stephen J. Miller, commandant of the USAF Air War College, told us that in the United States, servicemen and women all voluntarily join the military. Cadets who have finished two years of studies may choose to leave the armed forces or sign an agreement to continue their careers in the military. After voluntarily entering the service, they must unconditionally obey orders, strictly follow rules and discipline, and fulfill personal commitments. No matter where, in what position, or in which profession or stage of personal development they may be, as servicemen, they have no reason whatsoever to compromise their commitment. While visiting the USAF Senior NCO Academy, I asked a chief master sergeant (who appeared close to 50 years of age), “Having served in the military for so many years and all the time staying with soldiers on the grassroots level, have you ever thought about changing careers or seeking positions with better benefits?” “Well,” responded the chief, “this is the job that fits me and that I enjoy. I must do it the best I can.”
“Selected Thoughts from a Brief Look at the USAF”
Sr Col Wang Ximin,
Guilin Air Force College
As a military-school staff member, I naturally paid more attention to USAF educational institutions during our visit to the United States. Understanding the USAF’s modern educational policy, teaching models, and school structures will bring new ideas to our own education and training.
The US armed forces believe that military training must interface with war. As such, the US military often makes its war-gaming environments more complicated than real battlefields. It has adopted a mind-set of joint operations, the concepts of which are reflected fully in system structure as well as command and coordination, all the way down to the tactical level. US servicemen and women understand that they will train to fight for the overall strategic objectives of their country and have an obligation to do so. Soldiers must prepare themselves to win; otherwise, they are fated to lose. Putting aside the justification for launching wars, we can learn something from these service members, who have such a strong sense of mission, dedication, and obligation.
The USAF not only possesses sophisticated weaponry but also heavily emphasizes the human role in high-tech wars. Indeed, that service invests substantially in the development of high-quality Airmen. During our visit, I was deeply impressed with their military competence, technical capability, and physical as well as mental fitness. Both officers and enlisted members demonstrated a high level of education. Most of the latter have finished high school, and a fairly high percentage of them hold undergraduate or associate degrees. More than 95 percent of USAF officers hold bachelor’s degrees.* Officers of field-grade rank and above often have two to three different degrees. Faculties of the military schools consist mostly of professionals with master’s and PhD degrees. The US military also stresses the importance of total development. Through situational teaching, role rotation, field training, battlefield deployment, and many other ways, the US armed forces equip their servicemen and women with total capabilities and competencies. Students entering military schools must meet strict requirements. Company-grade officers must graduate from command and staff college to qualify for promotion to field-grade rank.† Field-grade officers normally possess experience in two or three career fields or weapon systems.
Political units and political commissar positions do not exist in the US armed forces, but political and moral education has some distinctive features. During our tour, I asked our host, “How do you educate your soldiers about loyalty to the country, dedication to the national defense, and commitment to duty?” He answered, “Such education starts from high school. When students enter the military schools, they are taught to understand why they serve in the military, how to dedicate themselves to the country, and how to contribute to military development.”
The US military holds the national interest above all else and regards serving the country as its sacred obligation. US servicemen and women may attend different military schools multiple times. In fact, education in military duty and responsibility permeates one’s entire military career. Despite the absence of dedicated ideological educators, such education is reflected in performing missions and fulfilling obligations. We also noted the compassion and attentiveness to soldiers’ actual needs. For example, the military takes care of many necessities for the families of soldiers deployed overseas. On the other hand, people who refuse to fulfill their military service agreements, desert, or break rules may face harsh punishment. My most vivid impression was of the cultural environment of USAF bases. Every unit and school has its own decorated room of honor and hall of fame. Certainly, all of these efforts imperceptibly influence the psyche of USAF officers and enlisted members, nurturing them to develop and grow.
“A Glimpse at the Cultivation of Airmen’s Core Values in USAF Schools”
Sr Col Hao Chengming, PLAAF
Air Force Aviation University
The US military attaches no less importance to moral education than to weapons and equipment. It holds that patriotism, a sense of national superiority, and dedication to national interests are important elements of a soldier’s character. These represent the highest personal values, serve as the true foundation of military morale, and are essential to winning future wars. During this study tour, I paid special attention to the US military’s cultivation of its soldiers’ core values.
The core values of the US military services include “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage” (Army); “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do” (USAF); “honor, courage, and commitment” (Marine Corps), and so on. In addition, every college and academy of the USAF has its own core values: “integrity, service, and excellence” (USAF Academy) and “institutionalization, service to the country, and excellent dedication” (USAF Senior NCO Academy), for example. The USAF Academy consistently sets as its first educational priority the cultivation of US military ethics and values in every cadet. Both the Center for Character Development and the Cadet Counseling and Leadership Development Center establish the curriculum for the moral development of cadets. The academy emphasizes such core values as “integrity first,” “service to the country first,” “the supreme honor of sacrifice to the country,” and “excellence in all we do.” The USAF Academy has summarized and expressed such core values in highly concise words and has embodied these concepts in a variety of patriotic, inherited, religious, situational, moral, and legal forms so that they guide the behavior of all cadets, who internalize them as moral pursuits. All of these educational efforts and their obvious effects left profound impressions on members of our PLAAF study delegation.
USAF colleges and academies do an outstanding job of creating an environment that subconsciously facilitates the education of students through pleasant sights and sounds. At the USAF Academy and each college of Air University, one can see that the meticulous landscaping and displays on campus, on the training grounds, along the corridors, and in every exterior setting all reflect the distinct educational principles and concepts of different schools, conveying an atmosphere of culture, knowledge, and education. On the walls of almost every office, teaching venue, and meeting room at Air University, one can also see pictures and descriptions demonstrating the history of the service and of the school. Important events relevant to the development of the USAF and the school, as well as famous individuals educated by the school, are all on display, offering a rich and colorful historical lesson that influences, inspires, and educates people. Static displays of various types of airplanes are placed at prominent locations as a means of stimulating the students’ patriotic feelings as well as their love of and devotion to the USAF. The inscription on the statue of an eagle and fledglings at the USAF Academy serves as a reminder to cadets of the importance of learning: “Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.”
The USAF colleges and academies also attach special importance to the development of students’ and cadets’ leadership and management capabilities as an extension of the cultivation of core values. At Air University’s Officer Training School and at the USAF Academy, the cadet wing—responsible for managing, educating, and developing USAF cadets—forges and develops their leadership skills and command and management capabilities. Organized much like an Air Force combat unit, the cadet wing includes various command and staff positions that provide each cadet the opportunity to experience leadership and learn how to manage a military institution. In the wing, seniors serve as cadet officers, and both juniors and sophomores serve as cadet NCOs. Freshmen, however, who have no cadet rank, must respect senior cadets and obey their commands—requirements that cultivate the Airman mentality and an attitude of obedience. Sophomores are held to somewhat less stringent requirements and assume limited leadership responsibilities in the cadet wing, with an emphasis on developing speech skills and communications capabilities. Juniors and seniors focus on developing a sense of responsibility as leaders and learning the various functions of the USAF. Senior cadets serve as instructors for most of the glider and parachute training courses at the USAF Academy; additionally, they must assume at least one leadership position in the summer training program for junior cadets. This model of education and management not only inspires the cadets’ initiative regarding self-education and self-management, but also facilitates their acquisition of professional knowledge and command skills necessary for promotion to higher rank. It also enhances their management capabilities and gives consideration to the development of their personality.
* This percentage reflects the author’s understanding, based on his US tour. In fact, a bachelor’s degree is a commissioning prerequisite for all USAF officers.
† This comment reflects the author’s understanding, but the promotion system actually works somewhat differently.