Embracing a difficult path: solutions found in a joint environment

  • Published
  • By Col. Andrew Toth
  • 33rd Fighter Wing commander
Travel no further than Eglin Air Force Base to find a unique military experience. As an Airman, I'm honored to serve alongside Marines, Sailors, contracted employees, civil service members as well as one Army Soldier in our wing. Additionally, we are one of many associate units comprising Team Eglin, which means some 40 other associate units are co-creators in this Department of Defense arena to serve our nation.

When determining our mindset in how we accomplish mission tasks, we have to choose between two paths at the fork in the road. One is the comfortable path of our service lines that is familiar to us. The other is the unfamiliar path requiring an integrated and joint way of thinking.

In the 33rd Fighter Wing, we encourage our Nomads to seek the latter. While more demanding initially, the rewards of embracing the challenge means the opportunity to create a positive experience and produce synergy instead of stepping forward begrudgingly.

This way of thinking has led to the completion of the first-ever DOD-integrated training center for the 5th generation joint strike fighter. This nook of the Emerald Coast will transform into a fighter town again for training mechanics and pilots on an aircraft technologically more advanced than anything currently flying overhead.

The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter program confronted many challenges within our integrated team of aviation professionals. However, our unrelenting and creative military and contracted personnel persisted through it to the point of being on the cusp of churning out students.

Perhaps you've been handed a challenge you personally need to find an answer to. Here are a few tools to help you move forward on your path.

First, admit you need help and seek an outside resolution. That's what the Marines assigned to our wing did. They required a quick, safe, and effective way to produce maintainers beyond basic F-35 training to become a supervisor. Using an Air Force model called the field training detachment, the Marines were able to march forward by benchmarking from their peers.

A second way to navigate the integrated landscape is networking.  You don't have to go it alone. Maybe your dilemma resides at the home-front and with a deployed spouse and subsequently a loss of your support system. For example, to overcome a support challenge with keeping Navy pilots flying skills current, we networked with other bases. Our team formed a Navy pilot training program by collaborating with Naval Air Station, Pensacola, and Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. With the availability to travel to NAS or use one of the F-16s on loan from Luke, we've been able to maintain pilot currency here until the F-35 becomes available to those in flying positions.

With this set up, we've seen the unimaginable happen at a stateside location - a Navy pilot, flying a Marine passenger in an Air Force aircraft. It's a reflection of the future at the F-35 Academic Training Center.  This facility is a colossal instructional and training marvel, the size of six football fields complete with virtual reality simulators for pilots and maintainers.

A third way to press forward is to create a new path altogether. You could be the catalyst for an innovative course of action. This helps us think opportunistically toward the future to other possible joint endeavors locally. For example, the Army's 7th Special Forces Group continues to build up their unit as a new member of Team Eglin. On the day their students are calling in airstrikes and we are teaching close air support, maybe we can marry the two.

Whatever our future holds, we will be truer to ourselves as members of a world-class organization if we embrace opportunities for overcoming existing challenges or shape the future with new possibilities.

Last month, the wing held a 15th anniversary ceremony of the Khobar Towers tragedy at the eternal flame monument and memorial wall to remember 19 brave warriors, 12 of which were valiant 33rd Fighter Wing Airmen. While it was Airmen who were caught in harm's way that day, one wouldn't know it by looking at the attendees of the ceremony. In addition to the Airmen and family members of the fallen, there were ample military members in other uniforms and contractors sporting corporation polos in the crowd. Seeing this clear picture of the integrated team I serve with,made me reflect upon how we're all in this together.

The 33rd Fighter Wing is working hard to create the template for how the world will train the next generation of fighter pilots for air dominance. Think of your own impact to the mission as you press on with each day. You can have the mindset of longing for the familiar route and miss out on synergy. Or, you can embrace the full potential of what a multi-service and contracted employee integrated environment offers.