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Sheppard | Journey to SOT improvement begins, ends with FSS

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

Part 2 of 4

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — One would think moving personnel from one location to another would be second-nature in the military, and, for the most part, it is.

A series of changes within the 82nd Force Support Squadron’s student processing section, however, has made that undertaking even smoother when it comes to the number of Airmen in Training that are in student-out-of-training (SOT) status. SOTs are Airmen who have graduated and are in an administrative holding pattern before moving on to their first assignment or follow-on training.

At one point, the number of SOTs on Sheppard were well above 500. Efforts by FSS, the 82nd Medical Group and training units on base have significantly reduced those waiting to leave to right around 100.

Master Sgt. Marché Taylor, chief of student processing, said the section is the first and last touchpoint for Airmen in Training in the 82nd Training Wing. She said the office, which manages student assignments and orders, had a variety of single points of failure that played a role in some students waiting weeks and even months to ship out to their next location.

“Ultimately, we’re the driver of the process. We’re the keeper of the process,” she said. “We had to identify where we could gain efficiencies for ourselves, and I feel like being the keeper of the process and gaining the efficiencies where we did is the driver for everything else.”

The most significant modification is one that took the section on a voyage to rebalance and reorganize workflow and responsibilities. The transformation is called Project Journey.

Taylor explained that prior to Project Journey, personnel in the section were assigned training squadrons to manage from cradle to grave, but there wasn’t a singular standard. She said in some cases, the speed at which students were processed largely depended on the “counselor” assigned to the squadron.

She said she knew going into the position that it was going to be a challenge to change the process, but she and the team were up to the task.

“I went in with an open mind to see how we get after meeting the intent of the commander,” Taylor said.

Project Journey, she said, met that intent and streamlined the process, changing it from counselor-oriented to task-oriented management. The move created three sections within the office — Journey 1, Journey 2 and Journey 3.

Journey 1 personnel manages pre-assignment actions such as initial AiT briefings upon arrival at Sheppard, funneling information to Air Force Personnel Center, and conducting assignment notifications and briefings.

Taylor said Journey 2 is the “meat and potatoes” of the operation, where three Airmen work on the requirements for an Airmen in Training to leave after graduation. This team also manages a roster that focuses on AiT that are about 30 days away from graduating and prioritizes Airmen based on their graduation date.

“The Journey 2 team populates the SOT roster plus 30-day out weekly, prioritized and sorted by class graduation date, and they account for who has orders, or what they’re missing and what status they’re in,” she said. “This roster is live for all of the military training leaders to access to see our updates.”

The final step of the process is managed by the Journey 3 team. Taylor said this team performs a quality check on documents in AiT files to ensure necessary requirements and reviews up to this point are complete. If the documents check out, the team is able to cut, approve and authenticate orders AiT need to depart Sheppard.

Taylor said some important changes had already been implemented when she became section chief in January 2021.

She said one such change was simply moving the day when FSS batch loads information to AFPC to generate Airmen assignments. By doing the batch upload on Mondays versus Fridays, Airmen were receiving assignments two to three weeks earlier. That’s important because FSS is able to identify requirements Airmen need to complete before getting orders, such as medical, Exceptional Family Member Program and Personnel Reliability Program reviews, as well as other documents needed for them to move on.

David Hendricks, chief of operations and policy at the 782nd Training Group, said the delay in assignments played a large role in AiT being placed in SOT status. He explained part of the issue is the varying length of courses Airmen attend. Some can be as short as 28-30 days, while others can be several months. The shorter the class, the more likely an AiT would eventually end up in SOT status because there is limited time to complete all the requirements needed to get orders.

He said Lt. Col. Vincent Terrell, 782nd TRG deputy commander, worked with AFPC to have assignments dropped quicker so agencies could begin working toward ensuring graduates could leave Sheppard within 24 hours.

Hendricks said the old assignment process was a disservice to Airmen in Training because it lacked the structure needed to let Airmen know where they were going next and begin planning and completing required tasks to leave Sheppard in a timely manner. He said as a former frontline aircraft maintenance supervisor, it’s also a disservice to the gaining unit and the Air Force as a whole.

“When you are told you’re going to get an Airman and they’re to get here at a certain time, what happens when that gets delayed if the person doesn’t get their assignment on time and it just gets pushed back?” he said. “It only hurts the Air Force mission, in my opinion, if we don’t get their Airmen out when they’re expected to be out.”

Taylor said another change the 82nd FSS made before her arrival was sending a weekly overseas assignment roster to the 82nd Medical Group’s Base Operations Medical Clinic so the team could engage Airmen sooner for review and clearance. The EFMP process could be lengthy, depending on the needs of the family, to ensure they are going to an installation that provides the appropriate level of medical care or request a new assignment for the Airman.

A process change in the PRP review also contributed to the drop in SOTs. Taylor said they were able to get authorization for students in some courses to go to their follow-on training while their assessment continued.

In addition to process changes, Taylor said a weekly production meeting is held among all agencies that play a role in AiTs moving on to review remaining requirements some Airmen have and determine which Airmen have actionable items. The team then works on resolutions for those Airmen.

Through the efforts of simple process and organizational changes, the 82nd TRW is well on its way to implementing long-lasting procedures to ensure the pipeline from Sheppard AFB to the operational Air Force continues to flow smoothly.