A new first step

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David Phaff
  • 47th Flying Training Wing

Undergraduate student pilots at Laughlin Air Force Base now have a new first step in their training to become the world's most combat ready pilots: the student success course. 

The course incorporates classroom learning and physical training to help prepare their minds and bodies for the year-long training they will soon embark on. It also provides students in upcoming classes a chance to come together as a team in a low-threat environment. 

At the same time, students have a chance to break down barriers between themselves, their future instructors and leadership. Here they learn that everyone at Laughlin is truly there to help teach and lead them to become the best pilots possible.

“We all come from different backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, different experiences, some that might drive you to have less confidence or less ability to speak up,” said Col. Carey Jones, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander. “We’re talking all the time about student centric learning, and the requirement for a student to step up and say, ‘I need to do this, I need to do that,’ and we’re talking about developing in these students the ability to command an aircraft.”

The journey to become a pilot is long and can be a stressful time for many students. But the four days of mentorship helps make the initial transition to pilot as seamless as possible.

Some of them do not enter undergraduate pilot training (UPT) with the correct mindset or skills that allow them to succeed from the very start of the program,” said Captain James Salem 87th Flying Training Squadron ogres assistant flight commander. “Student Success Week allows us to give students an idea of the atmosphere they will be training in and builds skills they will need to be successful in that environment.”

The four-day course begins every morning with physical training (PT) at the base track, where, depending on the day, students perform a variety of activities to keep their bodies sharp. Afterward, they move into classroom work where they will receive valuable mentorship from their future instructors and leaders

“This course, in many ways, is a course on ‘learning about learning,’ said Captain Ben Ernst, 47th Operations Group chief of training. “It helps students pace their study, stay in control of their anxiety levels, and build mental and physical habits that will set them up for success. 

Air Education and Training Command has taken notice of what Col. Jones and the instructors have created at Laughlin and are looking at building on their success. 


“We are stoked to be on a team of people who are on a mission to help students succeed at UPT, and we’re glad AETC sees Laughlin engaging and creating new ways to give students a leg up on their military aviation education,” said Ernst. “The Student Success Week team wants students to know from the start that we are here for them and have wildly high expectations of what they can achieve with determination and hard work.”

After two iterations, students are deeming it a...success. The class has only seen two iterations at the time of writing and students have already enjoyed what it has to offer.

“Student Success Week was a wonderful first opportunity to connect with my classmates, get in the mindset of UPT, and understand initial expectations from IPs and leadership for us throughout UPT,” said 1st Lt. Michelle Ford 47th Student Squadron student pilot “Additionally, we all received mentors from the operational Air Force to be a resource to us throughout UPT. It’s an awesome chance to speak with some very accomplished leaders and pilots.”

Leaders and instructors at Laughlin are open to the students' response to the course and are always looking for ways to help improve it to better suit the needs to a more successful learning environment. 

“If people start having ideas about how we can make pilot training more accessible and successful regardless of your background that’s what we need to hear,” said Jones. “I’d like to see some more of the brain science as well as some minority and gender concepts going into student success week so that we can demystify diversity and inclusion and get our students started in the right direction.”

As the course continues to evolve and morph, the instructors who are leading the way want students to know they understand what it's like to be where they are. Having gone through it themselves and recognizing the challenges they will face but fully acknowledging they can overcome them.

“I hope my own struggles and barriers to overcome can provide inspiration for students who may be experiencing something similar,” said Lt. Ernst.