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AF Global Strike Command establishes school for its best, brightest

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) -- The Cold War ended in 1991, and with it, a comprehensive knowledge of the nation's deterrence capability. The link between strategic deterrence and technical competence faded away, with Airmen often gaining expertise in other areas, according to Air Force Global Strike Command staff. This shortage in thinking is a problem the School for Advanced Nuclear Studies aims to remedy.

"SANDS is for the best and brightest of the command," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the former AFGSC commander and the driving force behind the school's creation. "It will draw on educators and curricula from across the nation. These students will be the 'Jedi Knights,' the really smart folks every combatant command wants."

They year-long program, which is housed at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, will consist of AFGSC officers, civilians and joint officers who seek to become masters of the nuclear enterprise -- all learning and working from the same capstone education. The curriculum stands as a consolidation of all things assurance and deterrence.

"Students will complete a rigorous master's degree program in operations management from the Air Force Institute of Technology," said Dr. Adam Lowther, the SAND'S director. "They will also be expected to complete a 'Great Books in Deterrence' reading program, and complete several professional courses from Defense Threat Reduction University, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Sandia National Labs.

"They will also write a master's thesis that seeks to answer a current question important to AFGSC and the Air Force," he continued. "It is specifically designed to develop leaders who are well-versed experts in assurance. Graduates will be permanently coded with an advanced academic degree identifying them as SANDS alumni."

Students will also take classes in research design, operations management, leadership and weapons effects among other topics. Given the array of material that will be covered, students will work collaboratively with some of the best faculty at Air Force Institute of Technology and elsewhere.

"I hope to gain a broader understanding of the policy and strategy that goes into how the U.S. executes nuclear deterrence around the world," said Maj. Matthew Boone, the deputy director of AFGSC's Commander's Action Group. "This is also a great opportunity to learn from experts who (are) on the cutting edge of our field."

Boone will be among only six students attending the school in its first year; however, the number of students admitted each year will increase, according to the SANDS staff.

"The goal is to have 12 to 15 students per class," Lowther said. "These students will come from across the nuclear enterprise. For the inaugural course, we accepted bomber pilots, bomber weapons system officers, missileers and maintenance security forces. In the future, the program will open up to more career fields, including government civilians and joint partners."

Acceptance to SANDS is competitive, as graduates will serve as the foundation for the command's expertise. Although many will apply, only a few will be selected each year.

"AFGSC will select its very best officers from across all career fields for the program," Lowther said. "The Advanced Study of Air Mobility, the program upon which SANDS is based, has been so successful that 80 percent of Air Mobility Command wing commanders and above are graduates of it. AFGSC seeks to replicate those high standards of selecting quality officers, offering a top quality program, and placing them in the right follow-on assignments."

While most course instruction will take place at Kirtland AFB, students will also travel to key locations that contribute to the deterrence and assurance mission. Ultimately, the goal of the course is to produce deterrence experts who can fill command and staff positions within AFGSC and more broadly in the Air Force, Defense Department, combatant commands, joint staff and NATO, according to the SANDS staff.

Students will also return to subordinate commands within AFGSC to share their knowledge with colleagues, helping to improve the overall understanding of Airmen. The end state is a command driven by innovation and expertise and a capability that remains the sharpest edge of the nation's nuclear capability.

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