Fairchild’s 92nd Communication Squadron launches new innovative shadow program

  • Published
  • By 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 92nd Communications Squadron launched a new shadow program on Jan. 9, 2023, to provide Airmen an opportunity to understand how different work centers operate and learn skills that were previously outside their Air Force Specialty Codes.

The new program resulted from an Air Force transition in 2022 that reshaped the communications enlisted career field from nine AFSCs down to four: Enterprise Operations, Mission Defense Activities, Data Operations, and Expeditionary Communications.

Lt. Col. Cody Vanderpol, 92nd CS commander, said the Air Force communications community began to transition its focus from support functions to an operational mindset in 2021 when the career field converted its cyber enlisted AFSC series from Cyberspace Support (3DXXX) to Cyber Defense Operations (1D7XX). He highlighted how the AFSC merger significantly increases organizational flexibility and how his unit’s “grassroots” approach to training is intended to create cross training opportunities for communications Airmen.

“We're basically trying to give Airmen more ownership and opportunity to choose their own adventure,” he said. “If they find themselves in a job that they're not really excited about, then they can look to another specialty and say ‘I'm interested in pursuing that’ in this assignment or the next assignment. What's even more exciting is the fact that Airmen from other career fields are seeing those opportunities at the Air Force level.”

Earlier this year, the Air Force announced additional cross training opportunities for Airmen in their first term and those in later stages of their career. The shadow program at the 92nd CS provides an opportunity for interested Airmen to get a better understanding of what the career field is like before they officially apply for cross training.

Vanderpol and Chief Master Sgt. Wade Ritz, 92nd CS senior enlisted leader, lauded Senior Airmen Eric Adler and Toby Walls for driving the shadow program while the Air Force develops a new formal curriculum.

“It's awesome to see Airmen take the initiative,” said Ritz. “This isn't something necessarily being forced down on them, it’s them picking up what they're hearing in some of the guidance and running with it: developing the schedule, identifying key requirements for this shadow program [and creating] opportunities for brand new Airmen to see exactly what the comm squadron in totality does.”  

Adler and Walls, cyber defense analysts assigned to the 92nd CS, started the three-phase shadow program so Airmen have an opportunity to embed with other 92nd CS sections and learn about the different communications missions.

Phase one is a week-long program for Airmen to observe each shop inside of the 92nd CS. Phase two allows Airmen who are interested in cross training to spend a week with the 92nd CS shop they liked best in the first phase for a better understanding of the responsibilities. The third and final Phase of the program will be where the Airmen receive formalized training and provide an opportunity to earn a special experience identifier or help the Airmen transition to a communications AFSC.

“Allowing members to come shadow different shops and see how the squadron functions is a cool opportunity that we’re opening up to the squadron,” said Adler.

Walls and Adler have expanded the program across the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, allowing Airmen from different career fields to get a better understanding of the communications career field by receiving more in-depth training and hands-on experience. The first iteration of the program began with two Airmen and has since seen 22 Airmen complete the first phase of the program.

“I think the best thing about the program is Airmen see the bigger picture for the entire base and how the entire Air Force operates together,” said Walls. “Airmen get hands-on experience seeing how cyber defense analysts work together to complete our air refueling mission at Fairchild.”

Ritz said he expects the shadow program to help maximize efficiency and effectiveness to enhance user experience across Fairchild AFB by developing Airmen with broader skillsets that can reduce the number of technicians assigned to a single task.

“Instead of having one Airman that responds to an outage, and then has to call another Airman who only does that specialty, and maybe even an additional Airman, it could be just one Airman,” said Ritz.

Vanderpol echoed his sentiment and noted that merging AFSCs within the career field will require time and training like that offered through the shadow program.

“What we're trying to do with the 1D7XX AFSC merger is maximize our efficiency,” he said. “But you can't just merge specialty codes, you need to provide experience and training along with that to make multi-capable Airmen so they can be problem solvers from cradle to grave. What we're doing with the shadow program is providing that experience and some of that training to allow people to focus on problems wholistically and get customers to solutions.”