Schoolhouses across the Air Force are reimagining education for a new generation of airmen, hoping to shape troops who are more critical thinkers, more capable workers and wiser leaders.

The changes start at the bottom. Rather than welcoming new enlisted recruits with screaming drill instructors, Air Force boot camp now begins with a crash course in stress management, cleanliness and military values. The service bets that building up budding airmen, not tearing them down, will forge stronger troops without sacrificing discipline or talent.

The service is also pushing recruits to think on their feet and learn from experience, through mock deployments, better wargames and a sharper focus on how their lessons will apply to real-life operations.

That’s a core piece of the new curriculum at the Air Force’s Officer Training School, which launched a revamped program in October. The service is trying to keep more people in that pipeline, too: Trainees who struggle will be held back until they’re ready to move on, not sent home.

Other measures are in the works to help the Air Force catch up to civilian schools that are years ahead in technology use, classroom collaboration and curriculum design. Tablets, augmented- and virtual reality headsets and other tools aim to give new airmen more control over their studies, particularly at the technical schools where troops learn their first — or their next — trades.

And a new set of professional development seminars are designed to help enlisted airmen tackle everyday leadership challenges, from mental health to unit cohesion. Those lessons are currently optional.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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