Leadership: Making Combat Experience Count


August 30,2008:  The U.S. Air Force has been using combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to get as many of their combat pilots some combat experience as they can. This ensures that the air force will end up with the largest number of combat experienced pilots for over a decade after the fighting ends. It's a big deal, for a pilot, to earn combat wings. And the large number of these pilots has changed the way the air force fights, and trains new pilots to fight.

Pilots who have been in combat know, from experience, exactly how all those standard procedures, drummed into new pilots, or practiced endlessly by peacetime pilots, should really be carried out. Combat clears away a lot of administrative deadwood and dangerous busywork. This knowledge, once passed on to a new pilot, or one who has not been in combat, makes that pilot much better once they do get into a combat zone. All this is nothing new. Back in World War II, it was discovered that training new pilots for combat, went much better if the instructors were combat veterans.

The World War II experience made a lot of how much more effective new pilots were, the more hours they had spent in the air during training. That was because it was so easy just count the hours of air time, and combat performance, and do a regression analysis. It was harder to quantify the combat experience of the instructors, but starting in the 1960s, after the unexpectedly dismal showing of U.S. pilots early in the Vietnam war, the combat pilot community learned how to quantify combat experience, and how to use it when available.



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