Blue Talon, developing future crypto leaders

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, holds the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contractor to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, holds the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contractor to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, explains the rules of the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contractor to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. The board game centers around a simplified version of the targeting and tasking cycles that link raw intelligence to finished intelligence to actions at the Air Operation Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, explains the rules of the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contractor to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. The board game centers around a simplified version of the targeting and tasking cycles that link raw intelligence to finished intelligence to actions at the Air Operation Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, explains the rules of the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contract to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. The board game centers around a simplified version of the targeting and tasking cycles that link raw intelligence to finished intelligence to actions at the Air Operations Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight program manager, explains the rules of the board game portion of the Blue Talon training program. The mission training flight worked with a contract to develop a program that could enable signals intelligence Airmen to gain an air operations mindset. The board game centers around a simplified version of the targeting and tasking cycles that link raw intelligence to finished intelligence to actions at the Air Operations Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Technology is always changing and so is the way we adapt and learn. The 70th Operations Support Squadron, wing mission training flight, sought new ways to motivate and enable Airmen at the wing to gain an air operations mindset.

While Airmen of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing have proven to be skilled in their specific intelligence fields, performing a pivotal role in providing actionable intelligence in their cryptologic specialties, to national decision makers, combatant commanders and tactical level personnel, senior leaders identified there was a training disparity.

To remedy the training gap of intelligence Airmen working in non-traditional Air Force work centers, Blue Talon was created.

“Airmen assigned to work centers with our intelligence partner tend to focus solely on their cryptologic specialties and rarely have the opportunity to receive training on the Air Operations Center (AOC) weapon system, which makes it difficult for them to see how their work fits into both the intelligence community and Air Force mission,” said Maj. Pamela Backley, 70th OSS director of operations. “By showing the Airmen how the Air Force operates, they are better equipped to posture our partners collection and analysis and feed air component information to the national intelligence community.”

The team responsible for establishing Blue Talon worked closely with a contractor that developed the program. Members of the 70th OSS were responsible for editing the curriculum and materials, testing the software and eliminating incompatibilities, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Caulder, 70th OSS wing mission training flight superintendent.

“Blue Talon is a blended learning course. It provides familiarization with air and space operations at the AOC and highlights the key role of intelligence,” said Caulder. “Students have access to an E-book and are given reading assignments to complete prior to attending in-class sessions. During the classroom portions, a variety of activities and discussions serve to enhance the student’s understanding of what was read.”

This course is currently held once a month, in three, half-day sessions. Prior to attending the first, in-class session, students are given access to an e-book with reading assignments. There have been three classes since the program’s inception.

During the classroom segment, students are guided by facilitators through various discussions and activities to include a specially designed Blue Talon board game. The board game provides an interactive learning experience that test the students understanding of the academics portion of the course.

According to the facilitator instructions, the board game centers around a simplified version of the targeting and tasking cycles that links raw intelligence to finished intelligence to actions at the AOC. On the board, a wheel showing a six-phase process is color coded by phase and consists of a targeting phase and a tasking step.

The students really appreciate the course, especially if it coincides with Career Development Course study, but they also want to use the opportunity to get a feel for the intel community, said Staff Sgt. Monique McCoy, 70th OSS wing mission training program manager. “They want cryptologic museum tours, Air Force instructors with a breadth of knowledge and discussion boards with representatives from each AFSC--and they want to have fun doing it.”

Caulder explained the modules were created by the contract team, while the 70th OSS role involved approving and editing content using Air Force doctrine and instruction.

One of the modules is specifically dedicated to the AOC structures and teaches the targeting cycle.

Another aspect of Blue Talon is brining real-world experience to the students. Airmen who attend the training hear first-hand encounters of facilitators AOC experience, giving students insight into how their intelligence work is critical to real-time air operations.

“Our Airmen can take what they learned in the training to create synergies between intelligence partners and Air Force mission,” said Backley. “Specifically, they are more capable of identifying opportunities to inject national intelligence community collection and analysis into air component processes, such as Airborne ISR collection, targeting and assessment,”

“There is an ever increasing demand for signals intelligence support from the 70 ISRW, and this course improves the baseline knowledge of our Airmen enabling them to proactively respond to Air Force needs,” Backley went on to explain.

Currently, the training is only offered at the 70th ISRW. The wing mission training flight is continuing to make improvements prior to distributing the program to other Air Force intelligence units.

“We wanted to ensure that the course accomplished the very thing its initiators set out to do, and who better to consult than our very own Airmen,” said McCoy. “During the validation stage, we stressed the importance of participant feedback and how it would shape the course moving forward, and the Airmen really stepped up to the task. We came out of the validation phase with a better idea of our target audience, an efficient course structure and effective delivery methods, and those changes are underway as we speak.”

The innovative idea behind Blue Talon is geared toward engaging Airmen in intelligence fields globally to leverage their skillset at a moment’s notice for successful air operations.

“This training increases readiness by helping our Airmen understand how their roles, responsibilities and functions tie directly to meeting Combined Forces Air Component Commander requirements within the AOC,” said Backley. “When they deploy to the field, they are ahead of their peers and are more immediately able to recognize linkages between organizations and mission sets.”