Under a plan being developed for 2014, new recruits will spend the last week of their basic military training in a classroom learning about sexual assault prevention, suicide prevention, PTSD and other Air Force cultural issues. (Senior Airman Marleah Miller/Air Force)
By Stephen Losey, Air Force Times
New recruits will spend the last week of their basic military training not crawling through mud or over obstacle courses but in a classroom, under a plan being developed for 2014.
Under the Basic Military Training Transition program, as many as 36,000 new airmen each year will learn about sexual assault prevention, suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder, the stresses associated with military life, and other Air Force cultural issues.
In an Oct. 7 interview with Air Force Times, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said those issues are now addressed at different times throughout the current 8½-week basic military training program. But the Air Force is concerned that in the high-stress environment, recruits may not be absorbing those lessons.
"BMT is very intense," Cody said. "It's designed to be so, so that it puts the potential airmen through the rigors of transforming them from citizens to professional airmen. But because that happens so quick, it's hard for all of that to sink in. It's kind of like the fog of war - the fog of BMT."
The new transition program would be a capstone to basic training, Cody said, and the classroom would be a quieter, more contemplative environment where airmen can learn those lessons and discuss them in more detail. This is the first such program the Air Force has tried, he said.
The Air Force wants the transition program to "solidify the meaning of our core values ... in an environment built on respect, dignity and trust," Cody said.
Under the new system, the in-the-field portion of basic training would end after 7½ weeks, at which point recruits would graduate and officially become airmen. The final week would be spent in a classroom before new airmen go to technical school, meaning the total time in basic and tech school would not change. Cody said the Air Force has started reorganizing the curriculum of basic military training to prepare for this change, and to get in-the-field training done in 7½ weeks.
Outside experts with decades of experience are helping the Air Force figure out how to discuss suicide, sexual assault, life skills, respect for others and other issues, Cody said. Military-related stressors such as deployment, separation from family, hardships associated with frequent moving and other issues that come with military life will also be discussed in these classes.
Cody said the Air Force decided to make this change so it can better focus on sexual assault prevention, which has become a top priority for Air Force leaders. The Air Force wants to teach new airmen from the start how important it is to stop sexual assault, he said.
"On a high end, 36,000 young men and women come into our Air Force every year," Cody said. "Getting those young men and women to have a better appreciation for what sexual assault is, how they can be involved in bystander intervention, that's a significant amount of people we capture at the very beginning. There's no one answer that fixes this problem in our military, but by getting every airman to a level of understanding and appreciation for how we have to treat each other, how we behave, the level of respect we have ... it is one of those significant things that we believe we can do up front to set the stage and the foundation for the follow-on things that we will continue to do."
But other resiliency issues such as suicides also prompted this change.
"Anytime we lose an airman [to suicide], that's a tragedy," Cody said. "Anytime there's a sexual assault in our military, it's a tragedy. Anytime our airmen aren't able to cope with the stresses of life, and certainly the different stresses that come with military service, we have to look at, 'How can we better build that airman? How can we better set up that airman for success?' "
Cody said the transition program will likely be unveiled sometime during 2014, but the exact timing is unclear. The Air Force had hoped to roll it out in early 2014, but the sequester and shutdown have delayed its development.