Air Force opens first Montessori Officer Training School
“Traditional commissioning programs are, by definition, extremely rigid,” said Lt. Col. Dan “Moon” Beam.
By W.E. Linde
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Air Force announced the opening of the first Military Officer Montessori School this week as part of an effort to invigorate the service’s various commissioning programs. Although MOMS will run alongside the traditional commissioning program located at Maxwell Air Force Base, the differences are readily apparent.
“Traditional commissioning programs are, by definition, extremely rigid,” said Lt. Col. Dan “Moon” Beam, the commander of the newly established 123 Officer Training Squadron. “But this very rigidity not only stifles creativity, it dissuades many from joining our ranks. We believe that MOMS will invite a wide range of new talent into the force.”
Beam explained that instead of exposing aspiring officers to the traditional basic training experience, where they would be subjected to intense physical training and leadership challenges for three months, the new approach will be largely self-driven and pleasantly tactile.
“The era of cookie-cutter commissioning has to come to an end,” said Beam. “The Montessori method seeks to unleash an officer trainee’s full potential by letting him or her decide what they want to learn.”
To demonstrate, Beam led reporters on a tour of the new, brightly-painted training facilities. In these “warrior-thinker hangars,” decorated with paintings created by the trainees on Help Night (the arduous first night of training where officer candidates pick a buddy to help with his or her growth) trainees are encouraged to read, play war games, stare out the window, or let their imaginations guide them.
In preparation for the new program, numerous Air Force drill instructors underwent extensive training to be certified as MOMS Instructors. This transformed the way they interact with blossoming officers.
“I’m an airplane!” exclaimed Officer Trainee (OT) Dillon Carney, as he dashed across the physical training “play area,” arms extended like wings.
“Don’t you mean that you want to fly an airplane, OT Carney?” asked Tech. Sgt. Miles Vorhees, a recently-trained Montessori drill instructor. The trainee stopped for a moment, then glumly nodded his head.
“I’m sorry OT Carney,” said Vorhees, falling back on his MOMS training. “If you want to be an airplane, you be an airplane!” With a shout of glee and airplane noises, the future officer sped away.
Montessori training will at times share some of the traditional school’s facilities. For example, shortly after “exercise playtime,” the OTs were led into the Jones Auditorium by civilian facilitator Jenny Ford for a post-lunch storytime and a nap.
“The OTs love storytime,” whispered Ford, as the trainees dozed in their seats. “It really primes their creative juices.”
Other changes from traditional commissioning programs were also readily evident. For instance, most trainees have to march in formation, usually to traditional cadences or “Jody calls.” Now, they get to walk single file while holding a blue rope while singing whatever keeps them motivated, such as the Spongebob Squarepants theme. And if they get tired, there’s a golf cart that follows them to pick up stragglers.
The Air Force is optimistic about the success of the new program, and already has plans to expand the program to include pilot training.
“You know,” said Beam thoughtfully, “while MOMS is a new way to earn a commission, we like to think it has roots that go back decades. Remember that [the Joy of Painting] Bob Ross was a drill instructor back in the 1970s, and we all know that his spirit certainly showed! With MOMS, we think we’ve learned the right lessons from Ross. We’re making happy little officers!”