BLOG: How many instructors would you like with that?
23 Sep 12 | By Tim Mahon
Much of the press coverage of the appointment of Colonel Deborah Liddick as commander of the 737th training group at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, has focused on the fact she is a woman and drawn conclusions from recent sexual harassment accusations (and convictions) at the base. Liddick, however, is the third female commander of the unit in the last decade – a fair average when one considers that about one in five Air Force recruits are female.
The real scandal, however, may lie elsewhere. Every Air Force recruit reports to Lackland for eight weeks basic training, overseen by Liddick’s unit. There are some 36,000 recruits graduating from this training every year, yet the total number of instructors amounts to little more than 500 and according to press reports that represents about 85% of the authorised strength. With 36,000 recruits going through two month stints in San Antonio, that means the average ratio of instructors to recruits on any one course is about one to twelve. On the surface this doesn’t seem so bad – but given the probable overlap in courses, the necessity for rotating instructors and the fact that at any one time some of them will be on leave, on TDY to other units or otherwise unavailable for training and that ration will at least double and could rise to, perhaps, one to thirty.
Is that an adequate number? Is there a ‘right’ number – what in the UK we would call a ‘directing staff solution?’ I don’t know the answer to that question – but I do know it’s a question we should perhaps be asking more frequently.
We talk a great deal about the individual differences in the pace of learning and the changes that has wrought within our training systems. Maybe that issue has greater impact in later training – in which recruits learn specific trade- or skills-related disciplines – than in their basic induction to the military. But it does raise the question whether, as we try to develop seamless training pipelines that take recruits from ‘cradle to grave’ in their military careers, we should re-examine the potential benefits – and concomitant costs – of providing a better ratio of instructors at this level to facilitate personal development and inculcate the ethos of individual training within a team environment that seems to be working elsewhere.
No criticism of the US Air Force or Colonel Liddick is intended in raising this question. But I wonder whether this is not one of those fundamental considerations that gets left behind in the wake of larger and more substantive debate on training issues.