Thursday, April 30, 2015

Times and faces may change, but the standards don't

by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs

4/30/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- According to the Air Force Basic Military Training website, approximately 35,000 new enlisted Airmen come into the Air Force each year.

They replace those who are retiring or separating, taking with them their skills and experience and leaving a void.

The task of filling that void of professionalism rests on the shoulders of the men and women who serve at the Professional Military Education Center.

"The end goal is mission effectiveness," said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Walker, conventional maintenance production supervisor at the 354th Maintenance Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base.

"The PME teaches us to be more proficient leaders," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Walker, noncommissioned officer in charge of the network control center at 354th Communications Squadron, also at Eielson. "Whether it's through communication or managerial knowledge, it helps us perform at a higher level."

Steven originally wanted to earn his living working on his family's ranch, but around the time he graduated from high school, that fell through and he enlisted in the Air Force.
His cousin Wesley went to work in the soda ash mines in their hometown of Lyman, Wyoming.

"In Lyman, if you didn't work in the mines, your father probably did," Wesley said.

After his summer contract at the mines expired, Wesley had the opportunity to watch Steve graduate Basic Military Training.

"It showed me the camaraderie of the military, and the professionalism was awe-inspiring," Wesley said. "That was something I wanted to be a part of."

The same professionalism which inspired Wesley in 2003 is now being groomed in him and his cousin Steven, 12 years later as they both attend the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at the same time, in the same location.

However, long before being accepted into NCOA, Steve and Wesley had to complete the first step of the PME ladder, Airman Leadership School.

"ALS is the individual's first experience with the professional military education environment," said Tech. Sgt. Jared Wilgus, an instructor at the PME Center on JBER.

It is mandatory for a senior airman or staff sergeant to go through ALS before acting in a supervisory role with subordinate Airmen, said Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Buck, the director of education at the PMEC on JBER.

It is not uncommon for Airmen to be assigned subordinates as early as the first day back from ALS, said Tech. Sgt. Callie Lewis, an instructor at the JBER PMEC who had six Airmen to supervise her first day back.

"ALS gives you a bunch of things to do and you have to manage your time to deal with it," Steven said. "In ALS, somebody's handing you a bunch of stuff, but here, [at NCOA] you have to figure it out yourself."

The different classes offered by the PME are built like a pyramid, Buck said. They build on one another, imparting new skills and responsibilities, polishing the skills the previous class taught along the way.

"ALS is big on time management," Wesley said. "Once you get to NCOA, it may touch on that a little bit as a refresher, but we are supposed to have those kinds of skills already."

Steven and Wesley are both currently stationed at Eielson Air Force Base after serving together at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Since Eielson does not have it's own NCOA, they attend their residency at JBER.

"There are 10 NCOAs across the Air Force. Many have an ALS and an NCOA, but they operate separately," Lewis said. "Here, all our instructors are dual-qualified."

A dual-qualified instructor can teach both NCOA and ALS, often at the same time - a unique opportunity the PME instructors here make sure to take advantage of.

"The instructor gets to see the Airman's perspective," Lewis said. "Then, we can take that perspective into the NCO classroom."

By listening to Airman feedback, NCOs are becoming increasingly aware there is no single  correct way to deal with every Airman.

An NCO's toolkit needs to be as diverse as his subordinates, Wesley said.

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, then that's the only tool you're going to use," Wesley explained. "PME gives me two types of screwdrivers and a wrench. Why use a hammer when a wrench would work better?"

The PMEC provides these tools and teaches students how to use them successfully, Buck said.

"We teach them to think more strategically," Buck said. "To think about the bigger picture."

Part of that bigger picture is the joint mentality.

The PME teaches service members how to work with sister services to accomplish the joint mission, Buck said.

ALS begins exposing Airmen to this with two hours of class on joint operations, and each step in the system offers increasingly more exposure, Lewis said.

As a joint base, JBER offers a unique opportunity for Airmen to be exposed to the joint environment earlier in their career than normal, Buck said.

The PMEC capitalizes on this by allowing Soldiers to come to ALS, and the Army offers the same courtesy, enrolling Airmen in the Army's Warrior Leader Course.

This free exchange provides a better understanding to enlisted members of how sister services work, Buck said.

"Not every joint base does this, it's a locally driven program," Buck said. "It's not just about the Air Force, it's about the Department of Defense."
Buck emphasized the lessons they are teaching service members at the PMEC are not military lessons, but life lessons.

As senior service members take these life lessons and move on to work outside the military, or toward retirement, new Airmen come in, bringing with them new experiences, new skills, and a new flavor of Air Force.

"Your Airmen have different skillsets and experience than you do," Steven said. "PME fills that void to make sure everyone has the same toolset to work from.

"What you do after that is up to you."

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