Groundbreaking Laughlin Ambassador program helps students help students

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Sarah Villarreal
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

The 47th Student Squadron created an “Ambassador Program” aimed at removing barriers for Undergraduate Pilot Training students seeking help as they train toward earning their place as winged Air Force pilots. 

The new program is inspired by the Department of Defense’s “No Wrong Door” policy and Teal Rope program implemented within other Department of the Air Force training environments. 

The program is the first of its kind for undergraduate pilots, and students who elect to become Ambassadors are designated by a unique teal border uniform name tape. 

According to the Defense Organizational Climate Survey and a random sample of students, 90% of students have no person they can comfortably turn to in a time of crisis. A crisis can be anything from a struggle with mental health, a family emergency or any personal event that a student is unfamiliar with.  

In response to this data, Laughlin’s 47th Student Squadron determined the need for a deliberate program that provides approachable peer support.  

Laughlin is the first duty assignment and introduction to the Air Force for many students. An informed peer to turn to in times of crisis can make all the difference as students navigate their first years as Airmen. 

“There are barriers our students face to asking for help during training,” said Master Sgt. Edward Schafer, 47th Student Squadron senior enlisted leader. “The Ambassador program is an entirely volunteer force, made up of our students for our students. We’re taking action to take care of our team and making sure every single student knows how they can ask for help, and that they can be a helpful peer themselves.”  

The Ambassador program is introduced to all students on “day zero,” before pilot training academic classes begin. During this introduction, students learn what resources the program provides and how they can elect to become an Ambassador themselves.  

“We cannot become the world’s best pilots if we are inhibited by barriers,” said 2nd Lt. Matthew Kanney, 47th Student Squadron student pilot. “Everyone deserves to live and train in an environment of fairness and respect.” 

Ambassadors undergo comprehensive training that cover essential aspects, including learning about available support services, active listening and empathy skills, how to recognize those in need and “Connect-to-Care” programs.  

As peers, Ambassadors guide students to the appropriate resource for the help they need and are not mandatory reporters. This means that an Ambassador does not need to report when a student reaches out for help; they can simply listen and escort. This helps remove any potential fear that other peers or leadership will become involved when a student is simply seeking advice or a preliminary resource.  

“These trained Ambassadors need to be easily accessible and identifiable,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christina Wolfe, 47th Operations Group senior enlisted leader. “Our student pilots are more likely to ask for help from other student pilots; peers who train, fly and live in the same spaces. The teal border name tapes help designate those who have the training to provide that extra help.” 

Ambassadors will receive periodic follow-up training from Equal Opportunity and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response organizations and will also have regular interactions with squadron commanders to share trends, concerns and overall advocacy for their peers.  

The goal is for the program to become self-sustaining, with new students regularly volunteering to become Ambassadors.  

“Mission success depends on a culture of warfighter readiness, and that comes down to how well we can all take care of everyone on our team,” said Col. James Blech, 47th Operations Group commander. “Our Ambassador program is about taking preventative action and providing intervention tools to our youngest and newest students. Our mission is to create combat-ready pilots, and that’s accomplished by training students with a combat-focused mindset, in a climate where seeking help is not just encouraged, but where the very real and compelling barriers to accessing that help are removed.”