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BMT Modernization: Optimizing for Great Power Competition

  • Published
  • By Christa D'Andrea
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – In his letter to the force, Sept. 5, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, urged Airmen and Guardians to consider whether they are prepared for a potential conflict with a peer competitor, underscoring that “change is hard, losing is unacceptable.”

He highlighted the importance of ongoing modernization efforts but stated more needs to be accomplished to sustain deterrence which “rests firmly on readiness and ability to win”.

Over the past year, 37th Training Wing leadership have been implementing progressive changes aimed at developing Airmen and Guardians by combining education with realistic, scenario-based training. This enables trainees to gain experience in a practice environment and to build the foundation for follow-on training. 

“BMT can’t exist in a vacuum – our job is to build a uniformed force steeped in the Profession of Arms, but our training has to be connected to the operational Air Force,” said Col. Lauren Courchaine, TRW commander. “These efforts are a strategic up-front investment to ensure trainees acquire the skills necessary to manage and adapt to stressful environments which directly relates to readiness and ultimately ensures they are prepared when combat occurs.” 


PACER FORGE, which stands for Primary Agile Combat Employment Range, Forward Operations Readiness Generation Exercise, was one of the first comprehensive modernization efforts made and was implemented in November 2022.

The scenario-based deployment exercise executed in the sixth week of training, was the first major change to BMT’s culminating exercise in 16 years.

Today, the exercise is focused on testing teamwork, mutual respect, discipline, and critical problem-solving skills using mission-type orders where small, diverse teams are tasked to execute. The PACER FORGE exercise aligns with Agile Combat Employment concepts and promotes the Multi-Capable Airman mindset.

Col. Billy Wilson, Jr., 737th Training Group commander, said the imperative to adapt stems from the ever-evolving strategic threats stating, “We only have 52 days to transform young men and women from civilians into capable and adaptable Airmen and Guardians. The catalyst behind BMT's transformation lies in the shifting demands of today's strategic landscape.”

He added that basic training is a delicate balance of instilling fundamentals like military bearing, core values, and understanding the Profession of Arms while preparing for a future fight.

Organizational Realignment and Zero Week

The changes within BMT are being accomplished in a deliberate, phased approach. BMT is beginning the process of returning to the pre-COVID multi-week construct in which each squadron will have trainees in different weeks of training.

In 2020, BMT organizationally realigned to create single-week group squadrons – meaning all trainees in a squadron trained at the same pace – arriving and graduating together. 

According to Wilson, the 2020 reorganization was a deliberate move to manage the Department of Defense’s COVID policy requirements and ensure BMT was able to remain operational.

 “Returning to the pre-2020 construct will increase BMT leadership’s ability to manage manpower, infrastructure, and training effectively,” he said.

Courchaine added that this shift bolsters readiness by fostering motivation among trainees as those in earlier weeks of training will be able to observe the progress of their peers in later weeks.

“Seeing others succeed taps into the natural human tendency to seek inspiration from others and will foster individual motivation, goal setting and a desire to perform,” she added. “That inspiration is a powerful incentive.”

The organizational realignment also includes the implementation of the Zero Week Squadron.

"Zero Week serves as a deliberate process that not only assesses the initial competency and readiness of our trainees but equips them with the essential tools needed to excel throughout their BMT journey," Wilson said.

Human Performance

BMT is 7.5 weeks long, with Zero Week being day one through five. The length of Zero Week has not changed, rather leadership re-organized existing curriculum and front-loaded training related to resiliency, human performance, lifestyle management, basic drill, physical training, and recruit living area organization into the first five days.

According to Lt. Col. (Dr.) Daniel Cassidy, Director of Human Performance for the 37 TRW, “Resilience results from combining problem-solving skills with the lifestyle habits that power them. By aligning training modules together that address human performance factors such as sleep hygiene, stress management and nutrition, along with allowing trainees to build relationships with their teammates, we can directly impact a trainee’s path.”

The anticipated outcome is high-achieving trainees who can evolve into versatile Airmen and Guardians as they progress in their training, he said.

The curriculum shift in Zero Week follows a beta test that was conducted within two squadrons starting in December 2022. Courchaine stated that numerous insights were garnered from the beta test with the most prominent being an increase in physical fitness.

“During the beta test, MTIs taught proper form and execution in a coach, teach and mentor environment that allowed for iteration and questions,” she said.

The approach is the same that will be used throughout Zero Week with MTIs applying necessary corrections to ensure trainees fully grasp the lessons and establish a solid foundation of training.

When day five is complete, trainees will be assigned to flights and transitioned to one of the other seven training squadrons to complete the remainder of BMT. The Zero Week approach aims to improve problem-solving skills and overall performance in both military operations and daily life.

“Wellbeing and performance hinge upon the ability to problem-solve effectively, especially in the midst of challenging and unpredictable operational and general life circumstances,” Cassidy explained.

For trainees changes will be seamless and transparent. The first group of trainees to experience the new Zero Week curriculum will arrive the first week of October.

“The changes in BMT will make our force stronger, more capable and better prepared for future challenges,” Courchaine added. “We need Airmen and Guardians who aren’t just physically and mentally prepared but are profoundly motivated to be highly productive members of the Air and Space Force.”