Maj. Cory Hollon teaches a class at Squadron Officer School. SOS is set to expand after the closure of the Air and Space Basic Course. (Melanie Rodgers Cox / Air Force)
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Big changes are coming to officer education. Air and Space Basic Course for lieutenants is going away and Squadron Officer School, which captains attend, is getting an overhaul.
What that means for lieutenants is no formal leadership training; captains are looking at three more weeks of classes, many of them pickups from ASBC.
The decision to consolidate the schools came down from the four-stars last month at their summer Corona meeting, held this year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Cost cutting and course duplication were the primary reasons behind closing ASBC, according to Col. Terrance McCaffrey, who oversees both programs as commandant of Squadron Officer College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
The Air Force estimates it will save at least $12 million a year in travel and per diem expenses for the lieutenants, and is tallying up the amounts for overhead and support services. No more than five civilian employees are expected to lose their jobs, and the college will try to find them other work at Maxwell.
"There were several options available, and they didn't go with the cheapest option," he said. "So you can't say [cost] was the only consideration. ... They didn't think we needed to do it twice."
The move doesn't surprise retired Gen. Stephen Lorenz, a former commander of Air Education and Training Command.
Shuttering ASBC is something Lorenz and his fellow four-stars talked about before he left active duty in January. He called the decision "a tough call senior leadership had to make" because of tough financial times.
"I love the course. ... It does a great job," said Lorenz, who also commanded Air University from 2005-08. "But we'll adjust to train the officers in a different way, in a way that will get them prepared for the next step in their careers."
SOS is for captains with four to seven years of experience who want to make major — and that won't change. But just about everything else will.
"It'll be a whole new course," McCaffrey told Air Force Times in a telephone interview.
The number of officers who go to SOS every year will jump from roughly 3,000 to 3,500. And the time they're at Maxwell will increase from five weeks to eight. Much of the extra time will be spent covering subjects now taught at ABSC, such as doctrine and core values.
Ninety "lessons" will still be taught during a rotation, McCaffrey said, and they'll still be based on five key areas — profession of arms, leadership, communications, war fighting and international security — with an emphasis on leadership woven throughout.
McCaffrey offered an example of how the revamped curriculum will intertwine leadership and doctrine. Now captains usually don't discuss doctrine in depth because they studied the basics at ASBC. The new SOS will teach doctrine from the perspective of leading airmen from a variety of backgrounds.
"Officers who show up at SOS and who have done ASBC won't say, ‘I've already seen this,' " McCaffrey said.
SOS will wrap up at the end of September. The new school is set to debut shortly after the first of the year, and staff members are already hard at work on the curriculum, he said.
"The whole college will be ingrained in this from now until January," McCaffrey said.
SOS's online component is being updated, too.
Right now, it offers a slightly different curriculum than the in-residence program. Students log onto a virtual learning environment and study ethical leadership, decision-making, and team- and coalition-building.
The 138 hours of classes, which captains are expected to finish in 18 months, include readings, interactive exercises and multimedia pieces. Testing takes place at predesignated sites.
When SOS reopens, the brass wants every eligible captain to attend the new SOS in person; now the goal is 80 percent.
Perfect in-residence attendance probably won't be possible, though, because of ongoing operations, McCaffrey said.
The captains who can't make it to Maxwell will be able to complete the new lessons online; the old curriculum will stay in place until January, when it, too, relaunches with a curriculum similar to the in-residence school.
A fond farewell
Since opening in 1998, ASBC has trained at least 39,000 lieutenants — about 3,000 a year. The last class graduated July 22.
The roots of the six-week ASBC date to a 1996 Corona meeting, where the brass highlighted five problems with company-grade officers: a lack of understanding of the service's core values, a lack of appreciation of the Air Force's capabilities, the inability to advocate the role the service could play in joint operations, limited contact with officers in other career fields and a misunderstanding of the importance of teamwork.
They decided to model ASBC after the Marine Corps' Basic School, hoping to provide a foundation for junior officers to become "inspired to articulate and advocate what the Air Force brings to the joint fight," according to the school's website.
Most lieutenants arrive at Maxwell just after receiving their commission, and all are expected to complete the classes within two years of becoming an officer. The school has four goals: to have them comprehend air, space and cyber operations; understand service history, doctrine and capabilities; adopt the service's core values; and value airmen as a team and the role of officers in leading that team.
In the past two years, the course has placed a greater emphasis on training specific to deployments, such as hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship. The course concludes with a field-training exercise that includes base defense and land navigation.
McCaffrey cautioned against reading too much into the closure of ASBC.
"This was not a decision made by the Air Force because ASBC was doing something wrong," he said.