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Squadron Officer School airmen at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., recently played host to 35 soldiers and Marines from the Army Captains Career Course about 81 miles down the road at Fort Benning, Ga., in what leaders from both courses hope will be a long-term relationship that will benefit both branches.
The Army officers spent a day at Maxwell learning about leadership — Air Force style — and the members of both branches say they're a little bit better for it. Air Force company-grade officers will get the opportunity to head to Fort Benning sometime in the future.
Air Force Capt. Shane Trego, curriculum development officer at Squadron Officer College, which includes the school, said he believes the exchange will help foster better communication and greater understanding of what each branch brings to the joint fight.
"This is the first of what we hope will be many engagements down the road — going in both directions," Trego said.
In addition to a leadership briefing by a faculty member and discussions about leadership styles and careers, the Army and Marine officers were able to join airmen for a problem-solving task called Project X. It presents a problem that the group has to solve in a limited time and imposes rules that the group doesn't learn until right before they start the exercise.
Army Capt. William McMurray, an infantry officer, said bringing soldiers, Marines and airmen together allows them to learn each other's lingo and what those distinctions mean to each service, which is clearly beneficial in a joint environment.
"The biggest takeaway is getting a different perspective," he said. "It's having an appreciation and understanding how the Air Force interacts on a daily basis. … Leadership isn't just specific to one small sub-discipline or one small job focus. It's all-encompassing."
Army Maj. J.M. Phillips, an instructor at the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, said Army officers, who are given leadership roles as second lieutenants, were able to share some of their practical wisdom about commanding troops and moving up the ranks. He said many of the Air Force officers took a keen interest in this because they had yet to experience it.
"An Air Force officer may not be directly in charge of troops until he's a lieutenant colonel, depending on what his [job] is in the Air Force," Phillips said.
In return, Phillips said Army officers received an opportunity to understand more about the inner workings of the Air Force, and even more technical things such as why certain assets might not be available when everyone is downrange.
Marine Capt. Kyle Wolfe said he had little experience with the Air Force officer corps and the daylong exchange gave him a peek into the Air Force mindset and ideas of leadership. Learning more about the Air Force philosophy has further broadened his idea of leadership, he said, and gave him tools that he believes will help him as he works with junior leadership in the Marine Corps.
Trego said no date has been set for airmen to go to Fort Benning, but the goal is to establish an ongoing exchange that allows members of both courses to take advantage of the bases' proximity and resources.
Phillips said the exchange experience was excellent and he looks forward to hosting the airmen in Georgia.
"I'd like to have them come up to Benning sometimes and maybe we could further develop the program and let the Air Force guys crawl around in the mud a bit," he said.