Commander picked up the gauntlet, prepares to pass it on

  • Published
  • By Miriam A. Thurber
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Col. Rockie K Wilson, 37th Training Wing commander, considers his time as a “Command of Two Tours.” In his first year, Wilson focused on solving pandemic-related problems, and in his second, pivoted to a proactive, innovative approach to training and educating the next generation of Airmen.

“We are driven by problem sets,” Wilson said. “It kind of gets your juices flowing. When somebody challenges you, when they throw down the gauntlet, that’s when we’re at our best.”

When Wilson stepped into the seat in July 2020, the pandemic was raging in full force and, according to him, “the training pipeline was not secure.”

While the decision had already been made to keep the training pipeline open, despite other military branches choosing to suspend their basic training programs, plans were not in place describing how the wing would keep everything open. Wilson had to hit the ground running in what he described as a time of constant problem solving.

For example, BMT shifted its squadron structure to assist with contact tracing and quarantining. However, while quarantine and isolation procedures solved the transmission problem, it created a manning obstacle. At its peak, out of the 6,000 trainees, 1,500 were in quarantine and isolation, which pulled 150 permanent party Airmen out of their normal work to care for the Airmen in quarantine.

“The team ended up doing some really unique and creative things,” Wilson said. “It got us to where we needed to go, and, at the end of it, we had no significant health impact to any of our 80,000 trainees that went through [BMT] during the time of the pandemic.”

As the wing rounded the corner into Wilson’s second year, the team faced a new problem: getting the wing to mentally transition and heal “scar tissue” from the pandemic.

“We had solved all of these pandemic problems and figured out how to sustain changes, so we could stop being defined by it and start doing what we wanted,” Wilson said.

Leadership knew COVID-19 would continue to affect operations, but decided they weren’t going to allow it to dictate their agenda. Wilson and his team sat down and created Operationalizing the Warhawk Way, a strategic plan that outlines 61 tactical objectives within three priorities: People, Modernization and Partnerships.

“We no longer spent our time focused on fighting COVID,” he said. “Instead, we focused on integrated deterrence — training to deter our adversaries and preparing to decisively win.”

Within one year, Warhawks have accomplished 75% of the objectives laid out in the operational plan, and have made innovative strides, including the integration of artificial intelligence and virtual reality into technical training to enhance Airmen-centric education.

“From the beginning, my priority was to take care of people,” Wilson stated. “The foundation of everything we do is our cadre.”

Because of the team’s focus on people, a number of programs were created to help professionally and personally support every member of the Gateway Wing.

One initiative, the Air Force Specialty Code Leads program, assigns a senior mentor to each career field to help force generators transition and security cooperation personnel back into the operational world. Another program, Warhawk University, provides professional development at every level, including junior civilians who, as Wilson pointed out, often miss out on training opportunities.

Throughout his two years, Wilson’s favorite part of the job was getting out-n-about and spending time with Warhawks every single day, “Interacting with our people and seeing how they impact the mission — actually talking with the Airmen — is what gets me up in the morning.”

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you,” he added. “I’ve done my best, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections; but, together, we have made things better. We have prepared our members to fight our nation’s battles. I know that we are stronger, more adaptable and more understanding of our national challenges now than we were two years ago.”

As he prepares to hand over the guidon, Wilson is proud to report that, because of his team’s dedication and hard work, “the training pipeline is secure.”

Wilson relinquishes command to Col. Lauren Courchaine June 10.

The 37th Training Wing is comprised of Basic Military Training, the 37th Technical Training Group, the Inter-American Air Forces Academy and the Defense Language Institute of English Language Center.