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Kwast salutes AETC team for "failing forward" in learning, innovation

  • Published
  • By Dan Hawkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – In the nearly two years since Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast took command of Air Education and Training Command, there has been change across many fronts of the Air Force’s recruiting, training and education enterprise.

As he prepares to pass leadership of the command to Lt. Gen. Brad Webb July 26, Kwast expressed gratitude to the men and women of AETC who have found ways to “reimagine” the way we develop more lethal and ready Airmen, from breaking long-held, industrial age paradigms, to further developing a world-class culture of innovation to develop better ways of accomplishing the mission.

In discussing what has stuck out to him in his time as the commander, Kwast was grateful to the command’s Airmen for understanding the need to change processes to keep pace with near-peer adversaries in today’s dynamic national security environment.

“I’ll start with the gratitude that this command was willing to explore transforming the way we recruit, train and educate to be able to compete against great powers in the 21st Century that want their values in this world,” Kwast said.

One of the major focus areas for Kwast upon taking the reins of the First Command centered on finding out how Airmen learn best and how to implement a learner-centric training environment across AETC.

“The way we learn right now was a design that we’ve been living with since the 1930s and we haven’t really changed, so we can’t learn as fast or as deeply as we could,” the general said. “This command has embraced the exploration of how we learn more rapidly and more competently than any other Air Force on planet earth, and that I’m grateful for, because change is hard.”

In order to focus on finding ways to help Airmen learn more efficiently, one of the major changes that happened over the last two years was the initiative to change the organizational structure of the AETC headquarters, empowering numbered air force commanders and better aligning decision-making where the mission execution happens, Kwast said.

“The time it takes to repurpose the manpower, to repurpose the skill sets and the talent required to do this work, takes years,” Kwast said. “We are on the journey, we are not at the destination yet.  But as the great saying goes, the joy is in the journey, not the destination.”

While discussing how AETC is breaking long-held industrial age paradigms, Kwast expounded on the benefits of the individualization of learning, comparing it to a garden where the seeds have just broken above ground and what can be accomplished when students control learning and its timetable.

“All of these things are just now starting to take root, and we have not yet even begun to see the power of what this will mean for a force that can be lethal and ready and adapt to any enemy and solve problems more creatively than we have since our inception as an Air Force,” he said.

Developing a world-class culture of innovation, which is now the cornerstone of how AETC does business, has meant a free flow of ideas across the command, such as those at Pilot Training Next.  The general understands that failing forward is part of the process of being positioned to better develop Mach-21 Airmen.

“It’s fun to see how creative and useful the ideas are that come from these people that have been given freedom to try,” Kwast said. “We talk a lot about the price of adaptation is failure.  You have to stumble a bit to find out what works. The same is true here.”

When asked how he felt the men and women of AETC have executed his first charge to them during his change of command ceremony back in November 2017, where he asked them to “teach Airmen to be humble, noble, courageous and compassionate.  Airmen who can out-think, out-learn, and out-innovate any adversary on planet earth,” the commander compared the growth measurement to how one would with their children.  While you do not necessarily see that growth up close every day, if you are gone for a year, the growth is dramatic.

“If you talk to somebody that was outside of this command that visited in November 2017, and who now comes back and visits, it’s jaw-dropping,” Kwast said. “It’s a transformational change from learning in a linear way, which we did in the industrial age, and it is going to be the key to successfully innovating and adapting at the speed of the 21st century.”

Kwast also spoke to how change is ever-present, his excitement for the future of AETC and his last challenge to the men and women of the command.

“I am very happy and very excited about where this command is going because it’s not about any individual person, it’s about the progress of relevant people who stayed perpetually useful to the Air Force,” Kwast said. “My challenge to them and my battle cry is the same as it was when I took command.  Change is the only constant, and change will continue to accelerate in our lifetime, so tap into this young generation because they’re more capable of change than we give them credit for.”

In terms of being a lifelong learner, the general was adamant about hunger being mandatory for Airmen.

“Stay hungry…if you are not an aggressive learner that intentionally jumps out of your comfort zone to discover, and if you are not a person that enjoys the fear of the unknown and enjoys being a prudent risk-taker, then you don’t belong in this uniform, you don’t belong in this age,” Kwast said.  “We are moving into a season of history where America will be tested like it hasn’t been in the lifetime of anybody that is sitting in these seats right now.  If you are not comfortable with change and with conflict and with chaos, and if you are not systemic and holistic in the way you think about problem-solving, in the way you lead diverse teams of people to be humbly learning new things that you have never understood before, then you will not succeed.”

As Kwast prepares to hand the guidon over to Webb, he reflected on meaningful work and its impact on the country, as well as his future.

“There is nothing more profoundly meaningful than living in times where your hard work does more to help our freedoms,” he said. ”It’s with a great sense of joy and enthusiasm that I hand the mantle to (Lt. Gen.) Brad Webb.  I’m very excited, very hopeful, and I will be a part of this nation’s journey forward.  I promise you that.”