SAN ANTONIO — The head of the Air Force's training command said he wasn't surprised by critical comments that instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland made last year about their leaders, working conditions and recruits under their watch.
Gen. Robin Rand said it was a rough time on the base when the survey of instructors was done last July. But he said “a lot of the angst” — caused by a manpower shortage that forced them to put in long work hours and give up vacation — was addressed.
He also said basic training is “on the right glide path” after a sex scandal that prompted a highly publicized command-directed investigation two years ago. He said a more recent survey showed morale is rising among trainers in Lackland's elite instructor corps.
“We're not declaring victory,” Rand said. “We're just telling you we're in a far better place today than we were two years ago.”
The Rand Corp. survey of 196 instructors last summer found that they held a negative view of working in the Air Force's basic training program. Fewer than half the trainers were satisfied in their job, and some said they were sorry they took it.
“I lost my family because of this job. When I brought up this difficult time to my leadership, I was told, 'Welcome to BMT,'” one military training instructor told the survey, referring to basic military training. “I lost the most important part of my life, and nobody had my back.”
Long work hours, poor sleep and little time with family emerged as major issues among the instructors. So, too, did the belief that new rules watered down the rigors of training while risking their future as noncommissioned officers.
Rand attributed some of the complaints to sweeping changes that included efforts to safeguard trainees against abuse — one of them liberal access to comment boxes. Trainers told the Rand Corp. that they feared that recruits' negative comments or even lies could tarnish once-spotless records.
Gen. Rand vowed to prevent an environment like that, saying it damages good order and discipline, and he added that instructors “have every reason to believe that they're going to be successful” as long as they follow the rules. He also said trainers have far more support now.
He said the recent survey, done in April and just delivered to Lackland leaders, shows a sharp rise in morale.
The survey wasn't made available, but Rand said 92 percent of the respondents felt they understood and were part of the mission. Nine of every 10 said they worked in a professional environment with an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
More than eight in 10 trainers said corrective training for poor performance was fairly enforced. Asked if basic training was free of sexual harassment, sexual assault, malpractice and abuse, Rand said more than 95 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed.
“Now, we're not happy. We'd like to see that 100 percent,” he said.
The command investigation two years ago found a broken command culture and a gap in leadership that contributed to the sexual-assault scandal. The report said leaders were insulated from training and that barriers “at nearly every level” limited the flow of information about instructor misconduct.
More supervisors were brought in last summer to correct the problem, reversing a removal of operations officers some years before that left one officer to supervise a squadron of as many as 1,000 NCOs and airmen.
As that happened, many MTIs couldn't take vacations because there weren't enough of them to train recruits. Half told the survey that they worked 11 hours or more a day and slept five hours or less.
Ten months later, Gen. Rand said, the situation has been reversed. More flight commanders, operations officers and NCOs are on duty, as are instructors — 439 in all, close to 300 overseeing flights of 50-plus recruits.
Where flights often were led by a single instructor, two are now assigned. Both work 10-hour days and have to get permission to work longer. One covers the morning shift, Rand said, working until 2 p.m. or so, while the other spends the afternoon and evening with the trainees.
Disciplinary records, moreover, reveal that nearly half of all complaints were unfounded. Of the others, 84 of 168 trainers found to have committed disciplinary infractions were given verbal counseling. An additional 43 got letters of counseling, Rand said.
Just four were removed from the training corps — none because of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
Rand, an F-16 combat pilot who took over the command here in October, suggested that shows a turnaround in basic training. He dismissed instructors' claims in last summer's survey that training had become easier, with one MTI likening his job to teaching high school.
“I have never had a fellow commander, either my peer or one of my subordinate commanders, complain to me about the quality of our trainees coming out of Lackland,” Rand said. “So I think the idea that somehow training has suffered, I would not accept that.
“I would say that I think our trainees are leaving here as professionally trained as they ever have in our Air Force history,” he added. “I'll bet my reputation on it, and you can quote me on that.”