Education prepares Airmen for leadership opportunities

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Eric Jaren
  • 95th Mission Support Group
In the Air Force, enlisted members have the same opportunities to learn, to achieve, and to progress as anyone else. The importance you place on education is directly connected to the number of opportunities you receive. A great example is the commander of the 95th Air Base Wing, Col. Bryan Gallagher, who began his career as an enlisted member. Through diligence, he finished his education and ascended the ranks to attain a senior leadership position. Two other great examples are the command chiefs of the 95th Air Base Wing and the 412th Test Wing. Chief Master Sergeants Juan Lewis and Kevin Soltis completed their education and rose through the enlisted ranks to become the senior enlisted advisors for their respective wings. Fortunately, the Air Force has mapped out a successful course of action for each of us. In fact, learning should not only continue throughout your Air Force career, but your entire life.

When I attended basic training in 1982, the importance of discipline, teamwork, dedication and standards was explained. Our modern Air Force core values weren't established yet, but simple things like integrity, trust, dedication, and "doing the right thing" were constantly drilled into us. These principles assured the vast melting pot of people entering the Air Force that there is a common ground to effectively communicate and cooperate to successfully execute the mission. I knew these ideas were much farther reaching than a successful career; they were cornerstones to success in life. I recommend everyone adhere to them 24/7, not just in uniform.

At technical school, I learned the core competencies needed to become a crew chief. Combined with my career development courses and good, old-fashioned hard work, I received all of the technical knowledge and experience necessary to progress through the various maintenance skill levels: apprentice, journeyman, craftsman, and finally, superintendent. For those studying their CDCs right now, remember that they are a very important part of your education. Final scores become part of your permanent record and are considered heavily for early promotion. Make sure you take them seriously. Lesson learned here: work hard, study hard, and you will be successful. 

In 1985, I went to the Noncommissioned Officer Preparatory School to learn supervisory skills just before my promotion to "Buck" Sergeant. The Air Force designed Professional Military Education to fill the gap between technical and professional responsibilities as you advanced through the ranks. The "Sergeant" rank was eliminated in March 1991, and the preparatory school was consequentially transformed. Now, you attend Airman Leadership School before you pin on Staff Sergeant. Last week, I had the pleasure to sit on a Chief's panel at the Airman Leadership School. We had interesting discussions on the Air Force's top three priorities as well as responsibilities of NCOs and the curriculum. The substance of the conversation made it readily apparent that the students and curriculum were far superior to the old NCO prep course. This bodes very well for the future of the Air Force. 

Many of the administrative and management lessons I learned during NCO Leadership School and at the NCO Academy seemed useless at the time I attended. You have to understand, back then, my entire shop of 175+ people had just one antiquated computer. I think it needed punch cards and used complicated programming languages like Fortran or Cobol. I mean, this thing was older than a Tandy 1000, and I hope you never had to use one of those. Back then, we just wrote out everything on paper and administrative secretaries typed them on typewriters. We were flightline maintainers after all. That administrative stuff was for people in another career field, right? Most of the information I learned in Leadership School went in one ear and out the other, or so I thought. Later, when my responsibilities changed, I realized I still remembered all of the administrative and management lessons. This made performing my new duties much easier and more professional. Following the SNCO Academy, I put the new advanced management and leadership tools to work right away and have never stopped using them. The thing to remember about PME is that the Air Force will provide all of the necessary administrative, supervisory and managerial experience to prepare you for future leadership roles. 

Lastly, don't forget to take advantage of your off-duty education. By earning career-focused degrees you not only enhance your value to the organization, but also help your career and make your job easier and quicker to accomplish. The Community College of the Air Force and the Air University Associate-to-Baccalaureate Cooperative programs use your military education and training towards associate's and bachelor's degrees designed for your Air Force specialty. Keep in mind, senior NCOs are expected to complete their CCAF degree or their careers are stalled. I recommend you knock it out as soon as possible. Maybe you'll put your degree to work and become a senior officer or command chief.

Whether you serve in the Air Force four years or thirty years, a degree combined with the phenomenal leadership experience you will receive will prepare you to succeed in the Air Force and beyond.