Axon - Investing in the Enlisted Corps - Ep14 Published July 25, 2023 The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied in this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency. Andrew Moulton My name is Andrew Moulton, and I am the guest host today for the Axon podcast. I am a retired Master Sergeant and currently an Instructional Developer and Instructor at the Air University Teaching and Learning Center. When I retired, I was the Superintendent for Education Technology at the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, and I'm currently a doctoral candidate pursuing a Doctor of Education Degree from Liberty University. Today I'm here with Master Sergeant Ja’Keith Robinson, United States Air Force, and he is the First Sergeant at the 552nd Operation Support Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Recently, he was honored as the Air Combat Command 2022 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year, and he holds a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science from the University of Arizona. How are you, Sir? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson I am good. How are you doing today? Andrew Moulton I'm doing well. Thank you very much. Well, thanks for talking with us today. We'll just get started. One of our first questions that, you know, we talk a lot about at the Teaching and Learning Center and you hear a lot about, especially on the enlisted side. How do you think the United States invests in the enlisted corps through education? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Well, I believe the U.S. invests in the enlisted corps through basic PME and courses like basic PME and courses like the senior enlisted PME I and II, you also have a gateway course and our keystone. The education in those courses provides individuals military training and development while offering leadership and management skills and service, occupational specialties, and joint operations. I think there's an investment of the enlisted service member education is mostly, emphasized at the tactical operational level of war through education, we are able to lead, understand, execute mission objectives within our specialty codes to operate in small team units and within organizational leadership. In my proposal that I wrote for Air University Teaching and Learning Center, I addressed the need for enlisted service members to receive education that allows them to understand, communicate and deliver campaign level strategies, orders, and plans, that would meet the need for us to be able to operate in national conflict and the joint environment. In my opinion, to maintain a critical advantage over China and other adversaries, we need to enhance the educational exposure that the enlisted core receives through EPME, so they have more opportunity to exercise the type of analytical and strategic thinking skills that joint operations and complex environments will demand on us. Andrew Moulton OK. Yeah, and you know, you've been through, you've certainly been through, all the PME right, ALS, NCO Academy, and the First Sergeant Academy. When you're talking about the different levels, did you find that, you were able to obtain some of that through the SEJPME that's available? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Yes, SEJ one and two. Those gave me an introduction to Joint Operations and just to give me a perspective of operating in a joint environment. So, I took those four or five years ago and it kind of helped me out because I was at a joint base, Andrew Moulton OK yeah, I found, as a prior enlisted guy that those courses were beneficial for me as well, just as even just learning the different cultures of the different forces because you know, obviously they're different from the Air Force. So yeah, I found a lot of value in those as well. Sir, how has PME, all the PME that you've attended so far in your career, how has that helped prepare you in your current role? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson As a First Sergeant, I think it's been a mixture of both EPME and operational experiences to prepare me for my current role. Through EPME, I learned leadership tools that helped develop me, to get to those experiences, and then use those experiences to sharpen my tools. I just tended PME like ALS, which is Airman Leadership School and distance learning courses in both those courses I learned supervisory skills they gave me the foundation, how to communicate both written and verbal, as a supervisor, as a leader, and use those to help transition or translate information into directives and guidance. When I did the SEJPME, I spoke about before, it helped with my development of awareness and perspective for joint operations. Also, when I went through the First Sergeant Academy, the education kind of shifted from just leadership and supervisory to not just leading people, but now leading the organization. I learned how to speak from the perspective of leadership teams and not just my own perspective. The Academy gave me a better understanding of leading by focusing on the human aspects of the mission, where I was given curriculum like emotional intelligence, sympathy versus empathy, conflict resolution and talent management, I learn how to interpret and disseminate information, so that best for my leadership team and my commanders so they can make informed decisions. Andrew Moulton I'm guessing as a First Sergeant, you probably utilize a little piece of that curriculum every day. MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Yes, every day. And then also it was in my First Sergeant role, my current role now, when I first noticed or kind of the light bulb went off about strategic education and opportunities for enlisted members. In my first unit, I went to it was maintenance. Maintenance being heavy enlisted, all the maintenance focused solely on the jet and getting that jet ready for being mission ready. The maintainers worked around the clock to ensure the jet was ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And also, as well my interactions with the maintainers to talk to them about the mission so I can learn more about what they do every day. They could tell me all they could, everything about this, how much it weighs, what this part did and what that part did, how important these parts were. But they I don't think they fully had a full picture of the mission capabilities of the jet. And when I say the jet, I'm referring to the E3. Our eyes and sky are focal points for command and control. So when I transfer to my next unit which is an operations on the other side of the house I was exposed more to more strategic aspects of the jet and its mission capability and officer operations being more officer heavy on the majority of the information in the meetings I saw and was introduced me to more and more strategic talks about the capabilities, what resources the jets were covering and supporting the why behind the deployments that it was going on or the TDY’s and also was exposed to even what documents had to be signed, to call for the support of the E3. Right, because it just doesn't happen. You just can't call it out without having a reason to. So it was that level of exposure that led me to believe that incorporating more strategic education and illicit PME would be helpful to maintain our competitive advantage. And I know you've been at Tinker before and been over to maintainers’ shop you probably understand what I'm talking about. Andrew Moulton Yea absolutely, I saw it every day and I think what you said really bolsters and backs up with what we were talking about earlier about you know, because of that PME you were able to adapt more easily, would you agree you were able to adapt more easily when you were moving between squadrons because you had operational and you had that, operational and tactical level PME? But then also you were able to go over when you went over to OSS where, you said it was more officers heavy, but because you had some strategic PME experience, you were able to, it was an easy transition. So that was really interesting, thank you. Our next question is do you think, you know you mentioned the different levels of PME and I kind of spoke on SEJPME me a little bit, do you think that's an appropriate model? Do you have any idea what the other nations are doing to our allies? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson So, I was doing research for my proposal. I came across an article, a DoD article titled “NCO Key to Ukraine's Military Success Against Russia” and that article, the writers kind of spoke on how Russia is still operating in a traditional Soviet model of being very officer centric and not entrusting their NCO's and giving them training and education. I know after the 2014 Russian invasion, Ukraine shifted from the Soviet model and started prioritizing and development of their NCO's, which is really helping them out during this conflict right now. They adopted the US and NATO models and introduced critical thinking so they can operate on a hybrid battlefield. Andrew Moulton Yeah, that's interesting and you can see like you said, the success, that they're having now, the Russian NCO doctrine, is a lot of their folks are they're not educated, they're oftentimes contracted. They're not putting the leadership roles like we are as enlisted folks in the United States military, so it's interesting to see that they're adopting, and we sort of get to watch it through historically, right, we sort of get to watch it work and function in real time while they're having their war over there so. MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson We also know that China is always monitoring, analyzing, and adapting to everything we do. China is always studying every interaction, decision, or strategy that we have, whether it was in the past or current and just to try to gain that competitive advantage over us or any other country. That's one of the reasons I think it is important for enlisted core to receive a strategic education like doctrine to where it prepares us for the full spectrum operations that we're going to be up against and also lets us study our best practices from past conflicts. Andrew Moulton Yeah, I think that's a good point, that's kind of scary when someone is out there mimicking or attempting to mimic or copy what you are doing, and your doctrine and I think you know they want to copy it. They want to try to reproduce it. If it didn't work right. MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Right. Andrew Moulton So, they can look at how we do things and see that it works and works well for us for a long time. Switching over to OPME, why do you think the U.S. you know as someone who works at Maxwell now in the Academic Circle where all the, a lot of OPME is coming from the EPME side, probably know as well, there's a big difference or there's apparently or, it seems like there's a huge difference in resource allocation. For instance, if you go over to become an instructor, a PME instructor, you may be getting taught by a firefighter or aircraft maintenance person or someone from legal or someone from services. But if you come over to the OPME side, you have professional educators, PHD's, folks with tons of experience. So why do you think that we invest so heavily in officer PME and then sometimes it can, it can kind of seem like there's some differing resources between PME and EPME. Any thoughts on that? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson So, in my opinion, the reason why the U.S. invests so heavily on officer PME is because they hold the heaviest responsibilities of decision making, policy writers, and solving complex problems. Officers are the ultimate overarching leaders within the military structure. They're required to be strategically minded war fighters that are capable of critical thinking and creative thinking and are required to be able to articulate knowledge and guidance to the Senior and Junior service members in their command. I think it's just because officers give the marching orders and the intent, and we as enlisted support and execute. Andrew Moulton I remember people talking about the differences and I think at certain squadrons you know, you could follow around the First Sergeant or you could follow around the Squadron Commander or the Group Commander and usually when folks came back from that they had a completely different perspective. Especially, you know, a ton of decisions that affects 4 people, they make decisions that affect 4000 people or 400 people so, that probably makes sense for the resources are the way they are. You made an argument for the strategic importance of enlisted education. Can you share some more about that? We talked a little bit about it earlier, but do you have any more insight on that? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Yes, I would love to share. So, officers will see education on national security concepts and documents in the form of academic instructions. I believe it would be critical for enlisted service members to receive similar education for us to maintain our competitive advantage. As we're preparing for multi domain operations, defense agencies anticipate our peer adversaries will target our communications, our command control operations. First, they aim to interrupt and limit our ability to communicate between domains and different branches and different commands. So, EPME has to put a higher level of priority providing enlisted service members with strategic curriculum can effectively operate independently by being able to interpret, analyze and translate strategic concepts to help defend and support the officers above us. Andrew Moulton You know, it's the enlisted force’s role, right? It always referred to as the “backbone” and you mentioned strategic curriculum. I was reading “Developing Enlisted Leaders” for Tomorrow's Wars that came out last year and there was a line in it that said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” So, when you mentioned that strategic curriculum that it made me think about that, not knowledge, but action. So, would you agree that the educational outcomes as you said, the strategic outcomes of EPME must be actionable. MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson Yes, I do think the enlisted force has to have a fundamental comprehension of strategic documents. Those documents being like the National Security strategy, the National Defense strategy and the National Military strategy we have to be able to support and execute the officers and the officers intent but, I think it's important that we have curriculum in PME to where we can have those items, learn those documents and be able to execute or learn or know how to utilize that knowledge to be able to execute in real time take the concept right, Ace. Ace is Agile Combat Employment. I believe ACE is not only saying that in the individuals need to know how to do different jobs in occupational specialties, but also having enough knowledge of those specialties to know how not having them or having them impact the overall success of that mission. Andrew Moulton That little bit of knowledge, that little bit of institutional knowledge, and that experience is priceless and the more that is taught to enlisted folks, you know, the more that empowers them and allows them to not only lead themselves, but lead others and inform others. My other question was, and this is something that I heard people ask for or talk about was kind of topic of conversation throughout my career before I retired and it was enlisted people talking about going to OPME, so I wanted to see your opinion. Why is having enlisted members attending Officer PME's not the best solution? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson I know we've done it in the past and there are members still serving that have attended officer PME like War Colleges and those type of things, but we have to remember that every enlisted member we send the officer PME that is the opportunity we're taking away from an officer. Also, there's just some things that is only meant for officers to learn, so enlisted just doesn't need it. I think the goal is to have EPME strategic curriculum that allows an enlisted force member to understand, communicate and deliver campaign level strategies during national conflicts and supporting role. I think the key point is that is in a supporting role. I'm proposing that we receive advanced education within the supporting role so we can better assist the officers we are serving so that we can help them work through complex problems. I do believe there is a specific opportunity during officer PME into where we can incorporate enlisted, and it will be beneficial in different scenarios like outcome-based scenarios when officers are going through that at the different levels of PME and where we can work together to work through those complex problems and understand what that would look like during real-time situations. Andrew Moulton Yeah, I think that could work. You know, it's the different levels like you said, having increased educational opportunities for enlisted folk is only going to improve that communication between those officers. So while they may not be, and I agree with you, you know they shouldn't be probably sitting next to each other in the same classroom, because not only are they taking someone’s spot, they’re going to be learning about things that are far and above what they need to be worrying about and what they're responsible for but, the more educated the enlisted are, the better those conversations are going to be able to be, the more effective they're going to be able to be. If you had limitless resources, right, so everybody likes the King or Queen for a day question, so if you have limitless resources, what changes would you make to enlisted education? What kind of changes would you make to enlisted education? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson So, it would be great to say, hey, everybody go to school, everybody tends the course, and everybody's educated. But I know that's not feasible, so, I would standardize the strategic education curriculum across all branches and establish milestones. Each milestones would come with an increased level of curriculum, and then I would ensure that our milestones align with officer’s milestones for strategic learning, so we can develop and grow together as we climb the ranks. Andrew Moulton OK. Yeah, I think that those are all good suggestions. You know, it's funny to see how PME was 20 years ago versus how it is now and in my opinion, it just keeps getting better, the enlisted force just keeps getting better and stronger and smarter and so I think your suggestions here would really help, bolster that. I don't have any more questions here outlined. Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about today as far as the enlisted force and education? MSgt Ja’Keith Robinson No, I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity. It was a great conversation. I love talking about education and opportunities so we can get any service member where the officers or enlisted. It is all aimed to for us to grow, learn, and apply with the future conflict that is common and I think it is extremely critical for us to understand what we bring to the fight and if we can improve that, then that is excellent, and we move forward on. Andrew Moulton Yes sir. Well, thank you.