Entente Cordiale and the ACS visit to Armee De L’aire Rochefort 22–23 May 13

In an attempt to understand how the French Air Force (FAF) train their NCO’s in Command, Management and Leadership and to build relationships for future collaboration with the FAF; 9 members of Training Wg (two with much needed French language skills), recently visited the Armee De L’aire, Rochefort, France.

Naturally, given the French attention to conviviality, the group of Instructional staffs were afforded a cordial welcome and were provided with a detailed programme, over a two day period, of presentations and observations that focussed on areas of training delivery and training management.

What was learnt
Terms of Service: One fundamental difference exists between the career structures of both forces. In the FAF, personnel are either recruited to serve for up to 20 years as airmen (the equivalent of a career SAC), or alternatively, recruited directly into the AAF as NCOs to serve until the age of 59 with career progression/promotion through a combination of both qualification, via promotion exam and character suitability.

More recently, the AAF has created two entry points so that airmen can transfer to become NCOs; an early entry point (for airmen that have 5-7 years service) and late entry point (for airmen that have between 15-17 years service). The training these individuals undergo in order to become NCOs, is known as Further Military Training (FMT) which lasts eight weeks for early entrants or three weeks for late entrants. The proportion of entrants to the NCO cadre from this route is relatively small.

NCO training is split into three phases:
Basic NCO Training is a 17 week course similar to RTS with an additional bolt on of command, management and leadership training. The courses’ main area of focus is on core military skills, physical fitness and resilience, and the development of leadership through team sports and activities. Basic training is followed by a period of Trade Training (Phase 2) ranging from 4 to 42 weeks, depending on Trade. Once this is complete, individuals are then mentored at their Parent Units for 6 months before they become effective NCOs.

Advanced NCO Training
(equivalent to JMLC & IMLC) strengthens command management and leadership skills. It is a three week leadership courses’s available after 7 to 11 years of service. This courses’ emphasis is on team leadership roles, management, military skills, communication and Air Power.

Command and Staff Course (equivalent to AMLC) for SNCOs, with approximately 20 years of service, is a 10 week course, 1 week residential initially, followed by 8 weeks of distance e-learning (approximately 1 hour e-learning per day) with another 1 week of residential training completing the course which focuses on developing analytical, influencing, presentation and service writing skills.

The two days comprised of a wide variety of briefings and presentations including infrastructure, resources, manning, course loading and content, and the appointment of instructors. The party were shown around the exceptional sporting facilities on the base which included two multi facetted gymnasiums and a 25 metre swimming facility where the, very striking, French Military Swimming Team were training. We also had a demonstration on the training received on both basic NCO training and advanced NCO training in ‘hand-to-hand’ combat. Their outside training area was also very impressive with, what looked to me, if the student’s faces were anything to go by, like a very tricky assault course and a variety of weapon ranges. We were also provided with a consummate demonstration by two students of one of their Basic NCO Course command and leadership tasks.

Rochefort Camp
Rochefort camp itself is a purpose built training academy providing Phase 1 and an element of Phase 2 training. The atmosphere was one of a military training ‘university campus’ with combined accommodation, classrooms, gymnasium and social areas. All service personnel appeared to be comfortable, content and well looked after. The living and teaching space, despite being a little dilapidated, was fit for purpose.

It is fair to say that the hosting we received was exceptional. Each day we were provided with a lavish lunch at the Officers mess and on the final evening we were presented with a fabulous evening meal with entertainment provided by a magician from the magic circle.

War Memorial
On the final day we departed Rochefort and made our way back to Bordeaux via the French town of Jonsac where a memorial honours two RAF pilots who died during the Second World War. They successfully bombed a German logistics munitions train which impacted heavily on the German war machine. A short time was spent reflecting on the plight and bravery of the RAF pilots involved. The plaque on the memorial reads “gloire a nos allies” (Glory to our allies).

The visit to Rochefort was a great success and confirmed that the FAF had invested significant effort in preparing for the visit. They were fully committed to the achievement of collaboration which meant the visiting party were made to feel very welcome and were hosted magnificently.

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