It's now a lot easier to become a military training instructor, recruiter or be assigned to any other developmental special duty job.
The Air Force on June 27 announced that for the first time in five years, staff sergeants can be nominated to become MTIs. The service also announced it is lowering the fitness standards for airmen selected to fill all 10 developmental special duties, bringing them in line with the rest of the Air Force.
Air Education and Training Command said in a June 28 email that expanding the eligibility requirements for MTIs brings that field in line with the other developmental special duties, which already allow staff sergeants.
The move also would help balance MTIs' work load, officials said.
There are now 557 MTIs at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where the Air Force conducts its basic military training.
"Allowing skilled staff sergeants to once again serve as MTIs provides greater NCO developmental opportunities," said Chief Master Sgt. Stephanie DeSouza, operations and special duty airmen career management division superintendent at the Air Force Personnel Center, in a release. "We are confident that mature, experienced staff sergeants have the skill set necessary to thrive as MTIs and better balance the [basic military training] workload. MTIs represent the Air Force enlisted corps on a national stage, and they are called upon to develop America's sons and daughters into our next generation of airmen."
Since 2012, only technical sergeants and master sergeants have been allowed to become MTIs, tasked with overseeing basic military training for tens of thousands of Air Force recruits each year.
But now, commanders can nominate airmen who have been staff sergeants for at least two years for the MTI developmental special duty, Air Education and Training Command said.
Finding the right airmen
The Air Force stopped allowing staff sergeants and senior airmen to become MTIs in 2012, after a sexual misconduct scandal involving MTIs — many of whom were E-5s — and basic trainees.
Airmen in those ranks accounted for about 42 percent of the 497 MTIs in the Air Force at the time, and some feared the change could mean the end of the all-volunteer MTI program. The next year, the Air Force switched to a system where commanders nominate their best performers to serve as MTIs, as well as in nine other developmental special duties.
Some former Air Force officials told Air Force Times that once again allowing staff sergeants to become MTIs is likely a good move.
As long as the Air Force screens potential candidates — regardless of rank — for the right qualities, they said, it probably won’t increase the risk of MTI misconduct.
"Maturity doesn’t always vest with rank," said retired Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, the Air Force’s former personnel chief. "The key thing is to make sure that you’ve got mature airmen that understand the import of that responsibility to be an MTI. An MTI has a lot of power over an airman, and so you want mature individuals who can act as mentors and who can take these young men and women coming off the street and turn them into America’s greatest airmen. It takes a mature individual to do that."
A basic trainee swings across a cold water pool as part of an obstacle course while a military training instructor stands watch. The Air Force five years ago stopped allowing staff sergeants to serve as MTIs after a sexual misconduct scandal involving MTIs and basic trainees.
Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo/Air Force
Retired Gen. Billy Boles, former AETC commander, said the Air Force’s decision to make senior airmen and staff sergeants off-limits for MTI duty five years ago was something that "was a quick way to get people’s attention" and show the service was serious about MTI misconduct.
However, Boles argued, it wasn’t the right strategy to actually solve the problem.
"I don’t believe that grade alone is the cause of the problem or the answer to the problem," Boles said. "I’m not of the school that says only senior airmen and staff sergeants are the ones who have sexual harassment issues. It’s in all grades. The best way is to make sure you ask the right questions [during interviews], make sure you screen properly [the track record of] people coming in there, and make sure that bosses pay attention."
In an email, AETC spokesman Capt. Beau Downey said the Air Force will not expect any less of its staff sergeant MTIs than those of higher ranks.
"We continue to have the same expectations of MTIs that we do of all airmen — to treat one another with respect and dignity," Downey said. "The updated policy allowing experienced staff sergeants to serve as MTIs reflects the high confidence we have in our NCO corps, and is in line with guidance regarding the care and supervision of the sons and daughters with whom we are entrusted to train and educate."
Filling the ranks
Some observers wondered whether the Air Force has taken this step because it’s been struggling to fill these positions.
"In one sentence: Even with DSD we can’t find enough people to do it," Air Force Times reader Paul Williamson wrote in a Facebook comment.
Boles said he wouldn’t be surprised if that was one reason the Air Force made the changes. But even if the Air Force was having trouble filling slots, he said, it likely wasn’t the overriding factor.
Boles said he suspected that, in some cases, commanders might not be putting their true top performers forward for developmental special duties.
"You hardly ever find anybody who gives away his show dog, his thoroughbred racehorse," Boles said.
AETC spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday said in the June 28 email that staff sergeants will be able to be nominated to be MTIs this fall, during the next call for developmental special duty nominations.
The first staff sergeants chosen during that session will report for MTI training and duty in spring and summer of 2018.
"Reincorporating staff sergeants as MTIs allows us to provide opportunities for skilled and mature staff sergeants to grow the next generation of airmen and creates a rank structure at BMT that allows technical sergeants and master sergeants more supervisory opportunities," Holliday said. "It also allows more of our experienced NCOs to remain in operational units longer."
Staff sergeants also can maybe better relate to basic trainees, Boles said.
"Maybe being a little younger than tech or master, they better recall what they were like as basic trainees, or one-stripers or two-stripers, and the kind of thoughts and the kind of actions they had," Boles said.
Jones said it could benefit basic trainees if their MTIs are drawn from a broader swath of airmen.
"That’s always good, when you can expose more trainees to a broader cross-section of individuals in our service [showing] what it means to be an airman," Jones said.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Chute, an Airman Leadership School instructor, performs a uniform inspection at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Professional military education instructors are among those affected by a recent Air Force announcement that makes it easier for airmen to serve in developmental special duty jobs.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Teresa M. Jennings/Air Force
In addition to MTIs and recruiters, the Air Force’s other developmental special duties include career assistance advisers, professional military education instructors, military training leaders, noncommissioned officer Air Force Academy military trainers, Airmen and Family Readiness Center NCOs, first sergeants, NCO honor guard members, and technical training instructors.
The Air Force said lowering the fitness standards for airmen to fill developmental special duties will allow more airmen to qualify for these jobs.
"This change just makes sense for the process," AETC Vice Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Anthony Brown said. "If you meet Air Force standards, you should be qualified to perform in a DSD or [technical training instructor] position."
Until now, airmen must have had a score of 90 or above on their last physical training test, or at least 80 on their last two tests, to be considered for developmental special duties.
With this latest change, airmen must have scored at least 75 on their PT test on each of their last three assignments to be eligible — the Air Force’s standard fitness requirement.
Boles said he doesn’t think relaxing the PT standards will hurt the quality of airmen they get. It could even help, he said, by broadening the base of airmen available to choose from.
"You want to get people whose bosses know them, who have worked with them for two or three years," Boles said. "If you want an MTI, you don’t want people who do a good job. You want people who do a great job, and who understand what their mission is."
Stephen Losey covers Air Force leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times.