New Path to Education
By Mr. Timothy D. Sandland, 102nd Intelligence Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 09, 2015
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- The first-ever Airman Leadership School (ALS) Course was conducted here at Otis Air National Guard Base via satellite.
The Otis Satellite site location is managed by a team of trained and dedicated facilitators led by Chief Master Sgt. Jason Mello, and administrated on a day to day basis by Technical Sgt. Debra Hasley. They provide a valuable service to the enlisted corps of the base.
As pointed out by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody during his visit here last month, Enlisted Professional Military Education (EPME) is critical in the development of airmen. He said "I want to make sure that there is an opportunity for every single airman in the United States Air Force, regardless of component, to be able to attend in-residence Airman Leadership School - distance learning needs to be available because there are circumstances where you can't get somebody into an [in-residence] class".
To put the challenge of routing the Air Force's airmen through EPME into perspective, consider that there are approximately 13,000 airmen waiting in the queue for this required career step. A number that is staggering when you consider that it is a requirement that cannot be waived.
As Chief Mello observed at last year's ANG Command Chief's Symposium, less than a quarter of attending units reported having some sort of EPME at their bases.
So, where do airmen get this training if not via satellite at their home base? They fight for training slots at their closest Air Force schoolhouse. Typically there are not a lot of quotas available for guardsmen as the class sizes are typically not very large and there are plenty of regular Air Force and Reserves personnel waiting to fill them. One of the challenges that Active Duty airmen face is that they have a requirement to attend the course in-residence. That, along with impending High Year of Tenure and ETS timelines gives the full-time force priority by default.
Needless to say, opportunities to attend are very competitive.
That's where distance-learning comes in. It is the same content, the same course work, and a very similar experience to in-residence. It is an accredited course so in addition to getting a 'box filled' for your career, you also end up with college credits.
In many ways distance-learning can actually be better because it reinforces time-management skills. Students in the distance-learning classroom, unlike their in-residence counterparts, typically work all day, go home to family each night, but also have to balance their classroom and after-class work. It takes real commitment to take on this kind of work load but it is well worth it.
The seeds for a locally-grown ALS course were planted back in early 2013 when Sgt. Hasley recognized the need. After getting the necessary buy-in from the leadership and the green light from the schoolhouse at McGhee-Tyson ANGB, the dominoes were set into motion to stand up a site.
Shortly after, in May 2013, the Instructor Certification Course Mobile Training Team from McGhee-Tyson arrived to provide the Instructor Certification Program (ICP). This is necessary and required for all instructors and facilitators. The training prepared our facilitators for the duties they would face during the molding of our young airmen and it ultimately allows Otis to be a remote site.
In addition to Chief Mello and Technical Sgt. Hasley, Senior Master Sgts. Leonard Perkins and Beth Hernandez, Master Sgt. Sean Sullivan, and Technical Sgts. Richard Hamel and John Casey are trained and qualified course facilitators.
Facilitators are the key with distance learning. They serve to keep the classroom under control, act as advisors to the students, perform many of the administrative tasks that are critical to keep things running smoothly, and are an extension of the instructor. Although they aren't full-fledged instructors, they are able to lead discussions, guide, and advise students on their projects.
Chief Mello reflected on the reason he volunteers his time the program, "we owe it to our airmen to give back to them." A sentiment likely shared with the rest of the facilitators as they all put in their time, above and beyond their jobs, to make sure students get the best available support and education.
With upwards of 12 remote sites and 8-14 students at each, the instructors at McGhee-Tyson have their hands full. The facilitators are an important part of the classroom structure - the process wouldn't flow nearly as smoothly without them.
The satellite portion of the class consisted of five weeks of weekend classes (both Saturdays and Sundays) for a total of 10 training days. Students performed all of the same tasks and assignments as their in-residence counterparts, including drill and ceremonies, completion of lessons, and submission of individual and group projects.
Written assignments were submitted using SharePoint on the Air Force Portal. The cloud-based service allows for quick and efficient dissemination of lesson guides, changes and announcements, and of course submission of assignments.
Upon completion of the five week satellite portion of ALS, students traveled to McGhee-Tyson to complete the in-residence portion of the school.
The McGhee-Tyson staff noticed how well our personnel had grasped drill and ceremonies, a credit to the instruction of TSgt Maria Escobar, who recently returned from a 4 year tour as a Military Training Instructor at basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. She volunteered her time to ensure the students were nothing less than perfect.
"We had a 100 percent graduation rate for Otis and our first DG [Distinguished Graduate] this time around" Chief Mello spoke pridefully of the Otis students.
Senior Airman Christopher Winship of the 267th CBCS took Distinguished Graduate honors. Rounding out the class were Staff Sgts. Steven Francis and Giselle Rodrigues and Senior Airmen Torrey Cox, Sean Foote, Lee Jamison, and Joseph Smolinsky. During the broadcasts the Otis site was known as "Wicked SMAAHT", a nod for the Boston-area.
EPME is a requirement; a box to check but it is much more than that. It is about challenging yourself, learning new things, connecting with your peers, and making long-term friendships.
One would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't recall their time spent in EPME, regardless of whether it was in-residence or via satellite, as a fun and positive experience. Most usually consider it one of their favorite memories of serving.
The future is bright for EPME at Otis. The establishment of the ALS course here potentially paves a path for more ALS classes and perhaps a satellite NCO Academy class. None of which would be possible without the solid dedication of the NCOs who step up and volunteer their time.
Any NCOs interested in becoming facilitators are asked to contact Sgt. Hasley for requirements and details.