“Student” is not a bad word

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Anthony E. Valerio
  • Commander, 97th AMW Training Squadron
Throughout my career I have been puzzled by the stigma that being a "student" brought. In our careers, we are all students at one point or another, with most of us striving for every chance to attend professional military education in-residence and other elite programs. So why do we have the stigma?

According to Air Education and Training Command data, a total of 394,000 Airmen graduate annually from one of the many U.S. Air Force educational programs. This equates to nearly 80 percent of our total force were involved in some sort of formal learning--yet I still sense a certain shame in being considered a lowly student.

We need to alter our way of thinking; being graduates makes us better Airmen. Being better educated makes us able to react and thrive when subjected to situations outside our norm. The ability of every Airman to think and react makes us the best Air Force in the world.

The most important major weapons system in the Air Force is our people. It is our Airmen who fly, fight and win - not any piece of equipment. We need to place as much emphasis on enhancing the capabilities of our Airmen as we do with maintaining our fleet of weapons. We do this by improving ourselves as students. Yet, in the Air Force we often go out of our way to avoid the "student" label. We call ourselves candidates, protégés, undergrads, fellows, apprentices, etc. We need to embrace learning. Each of us should learn something daily, from the lowest ranking member of the unit to the highest. We do not have to be enrolled in a training program to learn - we just have to be willing to absorb the lessons of our surroundings.

While we may go to war with the force we have, we will win our current wars with the force we build. To ensure our future success, we need to embrace students as future leaders. Our Airmen today are so much better prepared than we were a few years ago when our current wars began. Unless any of us has a base or street or building named after us, our only lasting legacy will be the students we train. Every year at Altus AFB, Okla., we teach 2,100 students how to fly and employ the KC-135 and C-17. Nearly every one of our current students will fly combat missions during 2011 and I am confident they will succeed.

In AETC, our mission is to develop America's Airmen today... for tomorrow; a mission the 97th Training Squadron takes seriously. We proudly wear our Student Patch every Friday to show our solidarity with our students. I am proud to lead this fine squadron and to be a student.