While other service members serve at home or abroad, 42 students — selected from 160 applicants from across the country — are part of the Air Force Education With Industry, an educational career development program for Air Force officers and enlisted Airmen, as well as a few civilians.
The participants are matched with companies within their career field to allow for learning on both sides of the partnership. The students learn career-specific skills and also are expected to bring back to the Air Force insight into the policies, practices and procedures of the various businesses.
“It’s an incredible experience for career development for our fellows,” said Capt. Katherine Hansen, Education With Industry program manager at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “The program is designed to improve skills and provide first-person insight into best practices and how a business runs.”
This is the 70th year the 10-month program has been around. Six of this year’s 42 fellows from across the country are currently stationed with businesses in Washington — Capt. Ryan Menge and Master Sgt. Trista Castro at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.; Capt. Nathaniel Opie at the Kent, Wash., aerospace company, Blue Origin; Capt. Thomas Fister at the Boeing Company in Seattle; and Capt. Richard King and Capt. Kevin Slaughter at Amazon in Seattle.
The program began in September and will conclude in June. During the program, fellows work at the business where they are stationed and then write reports to the Air Force program about what they have learned.
Menge said he has learned a lot at Microsoft.
“It was a bit of a culture shock at first, because you go from being very regulated in the military to only having to be somewhere at a specific time if you have an appointment; otherwise you pick up what you are working on and work at your own pace,” he said.
The process appears to work well for highly-motivated people, such as those who work at Microsoft, Menge said.
“The ultimate goal is to bring back what you’ve learned,” he said. “It’s like a professor recently said, ‘With an orange, you squeeze and get orange juice, and then you eat the pulp and when you are done with that you eat the peel.’ That’s how I see learning at Microsoft; you take all you can get out of it, because it is a great opportunity.”
In addition to their work in cyber technology at Microsoft, Menge and Castro are currently in Washington, D.C., as part of the Air Force Education With Industry’s Crossflow portion of the program, where fellows visit other fellows at their work location.
The two Airmen also are attending a conference in Baltimore with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. After the conference, they will return to Microsoft and complete their work and education there.
Castro, who is originally from Guam, has been in the military for 12 years. She said she’s enjoying the Air Force With Industry program and plans to use what she has learning about cyber forensics — concerning when systems get compromised with malware and other viruses — in the Air Force, where she is a cyber systems operations senior noncomissioned officer.
“What we are learning is very beneficial,” she said. “We are taking the practices that make these companies work so well and writing about what they do to advance our work in the military.”