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AETC commander’s farewell to the First Command: Tenure marked by fighting through COVID, championing dignity, respect

  • Published
  • By Mr. Nicholas J. De La Pena
  • Air Education and Training Command

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph -- Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, is retiring after 38 years of military service.  He has led the command for nearly three years marked by fighting through the coronavirus pandemic to continue recruiting, training and educating Airmen and Guardians for today’s and future conflicts. 

“It sounds crazy in hindsight, but when the pandemic started, the prevailing thought at all senior levels of the military was shelter, take a knee, ride it out and we'll get back to training when we can,” Webb said. “I argued against that, and then the decision was ‘if you think we can keep the pipelines open, we should.’ The charts will show you, if you stop producing, in other words, stop training -- basic training, technical training and flying training with no other factors involved -- readiness of the United States Air Force plummets off a cliff. You lose about a month for every week that you don't train.”

Approximately 40,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard Airmen and Guardians enter basic training and begin various training pipelines each year.  Webb gave credit to members of the 37th Training Wing, 59th Medical Wing and 502nd Air Base Wing in San Antonio for continuing to generate the force during the pandemic.  They used their experience containing the virus months before February 2020, when Wuhan Province evacuees and Crown Princess Cruise Line passengers were quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, to keep basic military training recruits and technical training students safe and healthy across AETC. 

“We took a stand, we called it fighting through and it actually paid off in huge measures,” said the long-time special operator. “I'm not going to say it didn't come without uncertainty; there was a lot of fear of the unknown. But as we learned more, and as we got comfortable with the procedures we had in place, it paid off for us.  It paid off for us in a big way compared to our sister services.”

Torch bearers from 19th Air Force also moved students safely across the nation and developed procedures to continue undergraduate pilot training despite rising pandemic numbers.  Instructors and students rotated classroom and flightline days and stayed together in teams for their training.

“At the end of the day, while it impacted numbers slightly, it was slight, it was equivalent to a bad weather week in flying training,” Webb said. “The key is the mentality, the mentality of if there is a way, we're going to find it. We have a job to do, how are we going to get it done?”

At Air University, after the same kind of analysis, courses were taught remotely, in person, or some had a blend of remote and in-person classroom instruction. Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and Officer Training School trainees were deemed mission essential and training continued.

The recruiting mission also changed during the pandemic.  As Military Entrance Processing Stations closed, recruiters found ways to transport recruits to adjacent MEPS to complete recruits’ final medical checks before shipping to BMT. This allowed AFRS to continue to meet Air Force accession requirements while minimizing the pandemic’s effect on the MEPS operational status at any given time.

Building a foundation in the First Command – core values, competencies

Every Airman begins their Air Force or Space Force journey in AETC -- the First Command. 

“There's a lot of development of character in training, explaining what the Air Force expects of its Airmen from day one and throughout their career,” Webb said. “We focus on core values, and we also train Airmen to understand commander's intent and how to apply it to a given set of circumstances that may not be black and white.”

When describing how great power competition and integrated deterrence will play out in the future, Webb explained the requirement for multi-capable Airmen who are comfortable with uncertainty, know the commander’s intent and execute mission type orders.

“Culturally in the Air Force, when we talk about near peer adversaries, we like to talk about weapons," he added. "The Air Force’s asymmetric advantage is competent Airmen who are comfortable with uncertainty and have an agile mindset.  The job of our frontline supervisors is to identify the competence and once they establish that competence, empower it.”

Seeking to understand

Recalling the discussions that began nationwide less than a year into his command after the release of the “Protect Our Defenders Report” and the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, Webb connected the ensuing dialogue to dignity, respect and readiness.

The general explained he wasn’t comfortable at first with the idea of “Real Talk” where he led discussions with guests via Facebook Live about racial or similar issues and their experiences, negative and positive, in the Air Force.  But when Chief Master Sgt. Jill Victor, AETC’s first sergeant functional manager, reminded him he had asked commanders to get out of their comfort zone, he realized he wanted to be on the right side of history.

“It felt like a moment in history in this kind of arc of time, where we will study this in years to come,” he said.  “It was clear that something fundamentally needed to change,” he said.  “Within AETC, I think that we really led efforts and I'm very proud of that. It was happening at all levels.” 

“At the end of the day, if you believe diversity -- diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of experience -- is fundamental, it's an imperative for the warfighter, for our Airmen, which I do, then we have to sustain this for the long haul.  I haven't done one of these sessions yet, where I haven't walked away saying to myself, never knew that, never heard that before, I didn't know that."

Dignity, respect – core values

When asked what he wanted to be remembered for during his time in command at AETC, the general said fighting through COVID and AETC members leading the charge for dignity and respect.

“What I'm most proud of are the Airmen.  Airmen in AETC have an operational mentality; if there is a way we're going to find it.  Our instructors talk about fundamentals; what's more fundamental than the Air Force core values? While dignity and respect aren’t in the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do, per se, if you read the explanation for the core values it’s there. In fact, dignity and respect are called out specifically. So, if we're not talking about it, if we're not leading it, then how can we expect the rest of the Air Force to reflect that?”

His schedule will change when he hangs up his uniform one final time, but Webb said he is leaving with confidence for the future and a grateful heart.

“There's certain aspects of the Air Force that I won't miss, like the volatility of a schedule,” he said. “But, what has gotten me out of bed with a skip in my step has been knowing that everyone that joins our great service is doing so to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they all want to contribute in any way they can.  For me, being around that kind of energy, which isn't as common as you might think, has been uplifting.”

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