Friday, July 06, 2018

Army Guard Soldiers to See Tuition Assistance Program Changes

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Changes to the Army National Guard’s Tuition Assistance Program are set to go into effect Aug. 5, allowing Army Guard members immediate access to benefits after they complete basic and advanced individual training.

“Previously, until this policy change, soldiers had to complete AIT and then, when they came back to their units, they had to wait a year before they could use the education benefits,” said Ken Hardy, chief of the Army Guard’s education services branch. “Soldiers will now come home [from AIT] and they can immediately use their benefits.”

Also eliminated in the coming changes is the requirement to complete 10 years of service to use Tuition Assistance to pursue a master’s degree, Hardy said, adding that those benefits will now be tied to completion of professional military education requirements.

“Now it’s tied to professional development and a particular level of school that enlisted, officers and warrant officers have to complete,” he said.

For enlisted soldiers, the Advanced Leaders Course must be completed, while officers need to complete the Captains Career Course. Warrant officers must complete the Warrant Officers Advanced Course to be eligible.

However, Hardy noted, the military education requirements come into play only if the Army Guard member used Tuition Assistance to complete his or her bachelor’s degree. “If a soldier never used TA, the [professional development] requirements don’t apply,” he said.

The military education requirement holds true if Tuition Assistance was used for even a part of earning an undergraduate degree, Hardy explained. “So, if you used it just one time and then, say, you got a scholarship from somewhere else, you’re locked in to having to complete one of those military education courses to use it for a master’s degree,” he said, stressing that only one of those military course requirements must be met.

“If I was enlisted previously and completed ALC and then, for example, took a direct commission, but I haven’t yet completed the Captains Career Course, I’m still good,” he said. “Those benefits can still be used. Only one of those courses needs to be completed.”

Reason for Requirement

The military education requirement was put in place to ensure soldiers are on track in their military careers while pursuing greater education opportunities, Hardy said, adding that exception-to-policy letters may be available for some soldiers who haven’t met those requirements for reasons outside their control. “You have some soldiers who have put in for school and it’s a three-year wait for an open seat,” he said.

Those exception-to-policy letters are still in the works, however.

“We’re going to let it ride and see what kind of feedback we’re getting from soldiers and how many are in that situation,” Hardy said. “We’ve got to see how big of an issue it is first. If it’s really a big problem, we may look at writing a policy to allow it, and if it’s a small problem, at least allowing some exceptions to policy for these unique cases.”

Regardless of whether Tuition Assistance is used for an undergraduate or graduate degree, soldiers are still limited to 16 credit hours per year, Hardy said, though that limit may be expanded in the future. “That’s our next thing we want to look at and see if we can change the 16-credit-hour cap,” he added.

Guard soldiers should check with their unit education officer on available benefits, Hardy said, adding that individual states may offer tuition assistance plans of their own that fill those gaps or provide other benefits. Those unit education officers also can provide greater details of the Aug. 5 changes.

The coming changes will ensure soldiers have easier access to education opportunities and the benefits they’ve earned. “The biggest benefit [to the soldier] is easier access,” Hardy said. “It’s always good to have as much access to your benefits as you can possibly have, with few restrictions.”

From Nothing to Something: Cargo City Takes Shape

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing

ABDULLAH AL-MUBARAK AIR BASE, Kuwait -- Construction is nearly complete on “Cargo City,” a new operating location for U.S. and coalition forces to conduct aerial port operations in Kuwait.

The aerial port will continue to serve as a major military logistics point and also functions as the largest aerial port of debarkation in the Middle East.

Cargo City, located next to a vacant aircraft parking ramp at Kuwait International Airport, will serve as home to Kuwaiti air force, U.S. military and coalition personnel during the airport’s massive expansion. The location will serve as a temporary operating location until its replacement, West Al-Mubarak Air Base, is complete, which is projected to be in 2023.

“Once finished, the total functional space at Cargo City will feature an area of nearly 33,000 square meters,” said Air Force Capt. Sean Murphy, the 387th Expeditionary Support Squadron’s civil engineering flight officer in charge. “We are optimizing our workspace by reducing our footprint from 230,000 square meters, excluding the flight line.”

Murphy said the consolidation of joint-service units and personnel will provide a higher ceiling of capability, as it enables direct contact with coalition and host-nation partners, streamlining communications processes by proximity alone. While the project will benefit all parties involved, he said, it did not come without its initial set of challenges.

“Moving everything to an entirely new location does not seem ideal at first, and building an entire base from scratch is a different conversation altogether,” he said. “The current base personnel also have to overcome the displacement of staff -- all while still executing their mission.”

Forming Friendships, Building Bonds

The move wasn’t all bad news for Murphy and the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron team, however. Their victories included more than just turning a blank slate into to a fully functional operating location.

“During the build process, we were able to form friendships and build bonds with our generous host-nation partners,” he said. “We wanted to go into this project with the clear intentions of building not just an operating location, but a lasting partnership.”

This partnership was evident during the build and construction process, as the 386th ECES and 387th ESPTS relied on their Kuwaiti counterparts for a colossal project: importing more than 1.24 million cubic meters of fill for the construction site.

“When we first arrived, the build site was not even close to ideal for our goals,” said Air Force Capt. Jesse Lantz, 386 ECES deputy commander. “The entire site was pretty much a 10-foot deep hole and needed to be filled in and graded properly, which is a huge project in itself. After a few meetings, we were able to hammer out a logistics plan for the site and get to work alongside the Kuwaitis.”


And get to work they did. To make the land suitable for construction, a team of local trucking companies performed 24-hour operations, transporting nearly 400 trucks of soil, dirt and rock every day. This operation lasted nearly four months.

After the task to fill, level, and compact the construction site was complete, the squadron began building the war-reserve material shelters, which are slated to serve as the new operating location for the 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s aircraft maintenance mission.

In addition to building the base’s facilities, the 386 ECES, the 387 ESPTS, 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group, and the Army’s 505th Engineer Battalion teamed up to install the heart and soul of the base: electricity and communications lines.

“After the site was prepared, we had three months to have the base move-in ready,” said Lantz, who has an extensive background in construction and project management. “Just a short time ago, there was nothing here but a patch of land. It is amazing to see something of this scale develop in front of your eyes.”

Lantz said while he may not be able to see the result of this $32 million project in person, he plans on contacting his replacement to request photos. With the Kuwait-contracted effort to complete the aircraft parking ramp slated to be complete in August and the connecting taxiway slated for a November completion, there will be plenty of photos for his successor to send.

While Cargo City will be replaced eventually, Lantz said, the project will ease the transition to the final destination, West Al-Mubarak Air Base, once it is complete.

“Cargo City was built with the intention of being a temporary solution, but will have long-lasting benefits,” he said. “This is one of the projects I am most proud of in my career. The teams here did an incredible job, and I look forward to what this location will be capable of in the very near future."

Face of Defense: Airman Carries on Family’s Legacy of Service

By Air Force Maj. Rodney Ellison, 10th Air Force

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Air Force 1st Lt. Kenneth Ellison grew up hearing about his family’s service in the Air Force. Fourteen years ago, he made the choice to carry on that legacy by enlisting.

“I joined the Air Force Reserve in 2004 to better myself,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere and I knew the Air Force would give me the training I needed to get my life going in the right direction.”

After serving in the enlisted ranks for more than a decade, Ellison directly commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and graduated from Commissioned Officer Training at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, June 22.

Designed for healthcare, legal or ministry professionals, COT differs from other commissioning sources, such as Reserve Officer Training Corps or Officer Training School, as airmen attending this program have already received their commission. The compact course brings in professionals to quickly fill continual needs of the Air Force.

Since Ellison already attained his master’s degree, he received his commission as a first lieutenant in November, and was able to attend the 5-week COT program before returning to the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to serve as the Medical Readiness officer in charge.

Developing Into a Leader

“Now as a commissioned officer, I feel like I’m starting yet another chapter of my life. The Air Force has given me so much in my 14 years of service and it is amazing to be part of such a legacy,” Ellison added.

His family noticed a change during his enlistment as well.

“I have seen him mature over the years,” Ellison’s wife, Melissa, said. “He has way more drive and motivation. I’ve also seen him become more assertive and confident, he was not that way when we met almost 20 years ago.”

His 14 years as an enlisted airman helped him mature from a follower into someone driven to grow, continually learn and lead.

“The Air Force instilled in me a desire to always improve,” Ellison said. “I’m not content with staying where I’m at in life, I want to be better and help others grow and develop as well.”

Ellison is the son of retired Air Force Master Sgts. Juri Dillon and Tony Ellison, who served proudly for 20 and 24 years, respectively. However, his family’s Air Force legacy began with his grandfather, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lenard Ellison.

“I was 17 and my mother helped me join the Army in August of 1947 to get of the south due to racial tension,” he said. “In September 1947, I was offered the opportunity to join the newly created Air Force.”

The elder Ellison was in one of the first two flights to graduate from Air Force basic training and had a long career, ultimately retiring after more than 25 years of service.

“The Air Force gave my family and me opportunities to experience a different life, and meet people from various cultures,” he said. “My service gave me confidence that I could have a better life and provide a better life for my family.”

Bonds of Trust

Ellison knows the Air Force Reserve is helping his family in the same way it helped his grandfather. “The best part of being in the [Air Force] is that I get to work with people from all walks of life,” he said. “They become your second family away from home. We share a strong bond with each other and trust each other to the fullest.”

Along with Ellison’s mother, father and grandfather, his family service legacy includes two aunts, an uncle and a cousin.

His uncle, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rodney Ellison, retired as the command chief of Air Education and Training Command, and was on hand at the graduation. “I’m very proud of Kenneth as he carries on a 70 year tradition of Ellison Air Force service,” he said.

As Ellison and his cousin continue their family legacy, both as reserve airmen, the new officer is eager to see where this new chapter in his career will take him.

“Whether they were active duty, guard, or reserve, we’ve had a member of our family in the Air Force since its inception,” Ellison said. “It’s great to be a part of this family with such rich history.”