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Transformation on ICE: Strengthening the nuclear force

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick A. Brown
  • 20th Air Force Director of Safety and Nuclear Surety
More than a decade ago, 20th Air Force created the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Center of Excellence, familiarly known as the ICE. The goal of the ICE was crystal clear: transform the way 20th AF trains its instructors and evaluators. We did it. We're still doing it.

Today, the ICE is providing essential, mission-focused training to develop Airmen by enhancing their weapon system expertise. The handpicked cadre takes pride in mentoring Airmen, who are already highly skilled at what they do, to become even better at providing a safe, secure and effective strategic deterrent force for the nation.

In 2014, more than 250 Airmen from the missile wings and direct reporting units in 20th AF passed through the ICE's doors; in 2015, the ICE expects more than 300 Airmen to attend its courses.

The center is one of the most important tools to shape the quality of the force, said Capt. Tim Moore, ICE operations instructor.

"With a small cadre of the command's best instructors, the ICE trains our maintenance, operations and security forces instructors and evaluators on proven techniques and methods, enabling our crew force to focus on the mission. The ICE also serves to standardize how we instruct and evaluate across the command," he said.

This year, as the ICBM force continues to capitalize on programmatic and cultural changes initiated under the Force Improvement Program, the ICE is on the forefront of significant changes in our enterprise by broadening its portfolio beyond instructor and evaluator training.

A new mainstay is the Advanced ICBM Course, an in-depth study of the Air Force's ICBM enterprise that includes classroom seminars and TDYs to partner organizations. This course is open to operators, maintainers and security forces Airmen selected by their unit.

The ICE is also developing several courses for execution by the missile wings.

Once delivered to the wings, courses associated with missile qualification, missile combat crew commander upgrade, and alternate and squadron command post duties will give units flexibility and maximum reach to train Airmen without travel to the ICE.

Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, 20th AF and Task Force 214 commander, is an enthusiastic supporter of the ICE and its mission.

"In the past, we often confused the concepts of training and evaluation," Weinstein said. "We approached training with the wrong mindset as if it were an evaluation. The ICE helps personnel in instructor and evaluator positions to understand the value of mistakes during training and the concept of continuous learning. We are becoming a learning organization and the ICE is a big part of that transformation."

In addition to receiving high-caliber training to enhance mission performance, many Airmen are able to take advantage of the ICE's affiliation with the Community College of the Air Force to earn credits toward an associate's degree. However, most Airmen agree that the most rewarding aspect of ICE courses is interacting with their peers from other units and receiving feedback from the cadre.

According to Capt. Jannel Emery, 625th Strategic Operations Squadron airborne launch control officer, the non-tangible part of the advanced course is something that will stay with her always.

"I found connecting with ops, cops, maintenance and acquisition officers invaluable," Emery said. "The course has given me a stronger understanding of our nuclear command, control and communications structure and a broader view of the advancements and challenges that lie ahead for the ICBM community and nuclear enterprise."

The instructors at the ICE share in the students' enthusiasm.

"I'm always amazed at the quality of Airmen attending the courses," Master Sgt. Shane Mellish, ICE security forces instructor, said. "One of the side benefits of these courses is the cross-talk and sharing of information between the Airmen from the three bases. We are getting the brightest from the wings, and their energy and drive only serves to heighten the training experience. This is essential to the growth of the enterprise toward becoming a learning organization."

With learning and training being such an importance part of mission success, Weinstein speaks with the ICE students every time he can.

"I enjoy the interaction," he said. "I'm highly impressed with the ideas and vision of our Airmen. My time at the ICE is usually the highlight of my day. I believe in our Airmen; I believe in our mission. There's no better way to share this belief than talking with them in the classroom environment."

The ICE continues to evolve by exposing Airmen to aspects of their mission they do not see on a routine basis, such as an ICBM training launch or ICBM acquisition and maintenance support activities.

The revolutionary changes to improve the ICBM force have created opportunities that the ICE is turning into real adventures for our Airmen.

"In addition to executing and managing the prescribed courses, we have the opportunity this year to send Airmen from all three wings to professional development courses and to travel to unique operating locations," Maj. Scott Hood, ICE commandant, said.

"The feedback from the wings has been all positive. It's one thing to bring students here and help them succeed in their missions at home. It's another when we're afforded the opportunity for Airmen, who perform the mission every day, to further develop their tactical and professional skills in their operational field," Hood said.

Are you interested in being a part of the revolution in excellence? Talk with your supervisor and express your interest in ICE courses and professional development opportunities.