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Trades School Meets All Services' Training Needs

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, March 3, 1997 – You graduate from Navy boot camp. You're assigned a specialty -- carpentry. You'll have to go to school to learn your new trade. What Navy installation will you go to? Surprise! You're going to the Air Force.

You're not just going to a joint training center, where you'll file off by service branch and learn new skills under a Navy instructor. No. Under a DoD initiative called Interservice Training Review Organization, you'll train alongside airmen, Marines and soldiers. Your instructors will come from any or all services. You'll study the same lessons and learn the same skills.

You'll stay a sailor -- but you'll learn what it's like to be a member of the other branches.

Established in the early 1980s, the Interservice Training Review Organization combined like training programs run by the services into single, integrated courses. Depending on the size of the career field, the integrated courses may be divided by subspecialties taught at different locations.

Recent basic training graduates come here to learn civil engineering skills, including utilities, electrical systems, heavy equipment operation, drafting, carpentry, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. Other skills are taught at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Miss.

"Jointly teaching soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines under one roof reduces training costs by eliminating duplication," said Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Bilter, 366th Training Squadron commander. "For most participants, it also raises the standard of training received.

"For example, before we did integrated training, the Air Force provided engineering assistants [draftsmen] one week in computer-aided design. The Army, who was host for that training, spent three weeks in CAD. Now, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine engineering assistant students get three weeks-plus of computer-aided design training."

Curriculum planners take the highest common denominator among all services, and that's the level of the integrated courses. As a result, Bilter said, everyone gets more robust training.

Officers assigned to lead integrated training programs, however, wondered how difficult it would be for the young enlistees to retain their separate service identities.

"Joining the Army, then coming to an Air Force base for training, requires a big adjustment for soldiers," said Capt. Ronnie Griffin, commander of the Army detachment. "We retain more control over soldiers than the other services do of their students, but I've had to tailor that to this environment."

Griffin complained only half jokingly there's no mud to run his troops through, but he does keep them operating as a cohesive military unit through nightly and weekend drill and fitness programs.

"We keep the soldiers focused on the Army," he said. "I talk to them about their combat role and tell them not to get too comfortable with being in this environment.

"What you learn here, you will execute," he tells Army students, "but the environment will be different."

Sailors face a similar culture shock when they leave Sheppard to join naval construction units. "Our students live here in multimillion dollar dormitories -- two to a room -- and have their own heads [bathrooms]," said Lt. Cmdr. Earl Ramsey, Navy detachment officer in charge. "But in the Seabee [naval construction] world, they'll live in open bay barracks and use communal heads."

A block of instruction in combat skills helps Ramsey remind his sailors they'll be supporting the Fleet Marine Force in far less comfortable conditions after they complete technical training.

Besides maintaining service identities, Ramsey said, Navy was concerned about different aptitude levels among a mixed-service student body. "The Air Force tends to recruit at a higher aptitude level," he said. "We thought we'd have real problems with reading comprehension and mathematics skills."

It turned out not to be an issue. Air Force Maj. Steve Wilbur, Electrical Flight commander, said there's no discernible academic difference among the services. "In fact, we recently had a soldier graduate with a .98 average," he said.

While integrated training was born as a Joint Chiefs of Staff initiative, service training commands now manage the programs and divide responsibility for specific specialties. For example, the Army serves as lead agency for civil engineer courses, the Air Force leads dental course integration, and the Navy leads aviation mechanics training. Besides integrating students, instructors also come from all the services.

Since the 366th Training Squadron inaugurated integrated courses in October 1995, more than 6,200 service members have passed through the base en route to their first duty assignments. While the school has used surveys and other data to measure the effectiveness of the unified program, Ramsey said it's the students, themselves, who underscore the program's success.

"If you can take a young student who is pumped up by his recruiter to be in the Navy, send him to boot camp, then send him here and he graduates still feeling good about being in the Navy, we've done a good job," Ramsey said. "I have yet to have any student tell me this was not a positive experience."

"Training them together, prepares them to operate in the joint world," Wilbur added. "We've got to be able to work hand-in-hand with the other services, and this is a great place to start."

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