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Instructor duty: Times are changing

Capt. Dan Hochhalter, Officer Training School instructor, shouts to trainees during a physical training session at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Capt. Dan Hochhalter, Officer Training School instructor, shouts to trainees during a physical training session at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.. (Courtesy photo)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) --

Thick skin. Selfless perspective. Fearless leadership. When asked what I wanted my officer trainees to leave Officer Training School with, these three concepts defined my expectations.

However, I have realized over the past year as an OTS instructor that these are the same characteristics I am developing alongside the trainees. I have changed as a commissioned officer, OTS has changed and the Air Force’s emphasis on instructor duty has changed … all drastically for the better.

Here’s why you should care.

I am a product of OTS. I was active duty for seven years before seamlessly transitioning into the full-time Air National Guard. When I came through OTS (Academy of Military Science for Guard), our cadre and students were all ANG. Shortly after I graduated, the Air Force made a smart move to integrate active duty, ANG and Reserve officer training. A few years later, and with yet another logical move, the Air Force also decided to merge line and non-line training courses. The result: a single OTS, consisting of line and non-line trainees from active duty, ANG and Reserve, whose 300-plus class sizes produce the most dynamically trained officers the Air Force has ever generated.

As trainees come and, nine weeks later, new officers go, who stands as the immovable guardian of the standard? The instructor.

Formerly known as flight commanders, the frontline flight instructors are the hands that mold the clay. Day in and, many times, night out, these trusted and empowered keepers of the commission teach, evaluate, lead and mentor trainees to earn a commission in the military. The days are full, vocal cords are strained and their own leadership stretched, but the instructor is the Air Force’s trusted judge regarding whether or not a trainee has what it takes to be a commissioned officer.

So what’s in it for the officer who is diligently working within their Air Force specialty, checking the boxes of promotion and enjoying the comfort of predictability?

For those officers I ask -- in what other assignment will a company grade officer have more opportunity to influence, network and grow professionally? The sheer number of career fields instructors come into contact with at OTS is unparalleled, both with fellow CGO instructors and trainees alike.

Additionally, the professional relationships cultivated and leadership sponged from visiting officials at the “mothership of officer PME” benefits any that call Maxwell Air Force Base home at any point in their career, let alone at the accessions level as a CGO. Not to mention the increase in stature as an officer, as one having to constantly set the example of a commissioned leader in the military.

Nevertheless, I understand the hesitancy of the active duty CGO. Believe me, I was on the “voluntold” end of a permanent change of station order to instructor duty as an enlisted air traffic controller. Many see instructor duty as a career killer. Well, times are changing.

For those who haven’t heard the recent news, instructor and recruiting special duty positions will be added to the Officer Selection Brief and Secretary of the Air Force Memorandum of Instruction.

“We need inspirational leaders throughout our Air Force, and this begins with recruiting and instructing our Airmen,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.

Besides promotion boards valuing these leadership experiences, other incentives will include deployment exemptions, two-year assignments (where possible), alma mater preference for Reserve Officer Training Corps assignments (when possible) and follow-on assignment preferences (as determined by the Airman’s respective career field).

Regardless of these much-improved answers to the question, “What’s in it for me?” I would ask any commissioned officer reading this article to ask themselves, “What’s in me that I have to offer?”

I guarantee that not only will a tour as an instructor benefit your career, but it will provide you with the intangibles that mold your character and leadership experiences beyond anything your specific specialty could ever provide you.

Times are changing. Take a look at yourself as an officer and reflect on whether or not you’re going to be one to change the times, or simply let time make the changes.

(Editor’s note: To learn more about instructor and recruiting officer special duty assignments, visit https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1811802/air-force-announces-selection-process-for-officer-instructor-and-recruiting-spe/)

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