Document created: 15 October 2003
Air University Review, November-December 1974
One result of the tremendous social and technological change in the Air Force has been the creation of professional military education (PME) for the enlisted airman and noncommissioned officer (NCO). These PME schools were created to produce a more efficient, effective, and productive enlisted manager for the highly complex weapon systems of the United States Air Force. To accomplish this objective, Headquarters USAF authorized major commands to establish leadership schools and noncommissioned officer academies. Several major air commands have PME schools under the jurisdiction of the individual command. This article, based on a study of the history and effectiveness of the enlisted professional military education system, advocates central control of the many and somewhat diverse schools.
In March 1974, the United States Air Force celebrated another milestone in its short but glorious history, the twentieth anniversary of professional military education for the noncommissioned officer. The first NCO Academy (NCOA) in the United States was opened at March Air Force Base, California, in March 1954. Its forerunner had been an NCO school established by the Strategic Air Command at West Drayton, England, in 1952.1 There are now eleven accredited academies. In addition, there are 26 accredited leadership schools.2 However, it is important to note that the number of these schools has periodically increased and decreased over the last twenty years, depending upon the availability of sufficient funds and support within the commands to conduct these programs. For example, as compared to the 26 leadership schools in operation today, there were 56 in 1962, called NCO preparatory schools.3 A number of command NCO academies have been discontinued at various times since their birth. At one time the Strategic Air Command, for example, operated three NCO academies; today only one is in existence.
In January 1973 the Air Force approved a new level of professional military education for the NCO, the USAF Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy, under control of Air University, and opened its doors at Gunter Air Force Station, Alabama. This new phase of PME did not come about by the wave of a magic wand. In fact, when first proposed to the United States Congress, it was disapproved. The rationale for Congressional disapproval was the fact that the Air Force already was supporting eleven NCO academies. After additional study by USAF and Air University, another proposal was submitted, and this time it was approved. Thus it has taken the Air Force nearly two decades to implement fully a professional military education program for its noncommissioned corps, which is now comparable to that which has been provided for the commissioned officer since March 1946.4 The established enlisted and officer PME institutions in the Air Force are as follows:
Leadership Squadron Officer
School (LS) School (SOS)
Noncommis- Air Command and
sioned Officer Staff College
Senior Noncom- Air War College
missioned Offi- (AWC)
Just how effective are current enlisted PME programs in meeting the needs of today’s Air Force? Unlike officer PME programs, enlisted PME programs have evidenced a lack of continuity over the years since their initial establishment.
To be accredited by USAF, leadership schools and NCO academies must meet minimum standard criteria. The Leadership School curriculum entails at least 136 hours of instruction, conducted over a three-week time period.5 The NCO Academy course is of five weeks’ duration and at least 225 hours of instruction.6 The Senior NCO Academy, which is the highest level of NCO PME, is of nine weeks’ duration with a total curriculum of 352 hours.7 All these schools are required to be conducted in an in-residence status, with the exception of the Senior NCO Academy. In November 1973 an Extension Course Institute (ECI) correspondence course for the Senior NCO Academy program was activated, and it may be taken in lieu of in-residence training. Air Force Regulation 50-39, “Noncommissioned Officer Professional Military Education,” establishes specific authority for the operation of’ these courses and detailed curriculum information. However, core curriculum for the Senior NCO Academy is not yet included in AFR 50-39.
Although AFR 50-39 provides for enlisted PME for ranks E-6, E-7, and E-8, only a few of these noncommissioned officers are afforded the opportunity to attend, and then only after they have served as managers for approximately 15 years or more. A similar problem exists for the junior NCO seeking education through a leadership school. At present, only five major commands are operating such schools. Many of the leadership schools were closed when a manpower shortage developed as a result of the Vietnam war, and very few of them have reopened.
To further substantiate the point, each of the three schools is restricted as follows:
Leadership school. To attend an NCO leadership school, personnel must be in the grade of E-4 or E-5, with fewer than 12 years’ total active federal military service, and have more than 6 months’ retainability. As stated earlier, there are only 26 Air Force leadership schools in existence, and they have an average student load of twenty per class. The NCO leadership schools conduct eight classes a year and graduate approximately 4000 students annually.8 This accounts for only 8 percent of the total eligible personnel resource.
NCO academy. To attend a command NCO academy, personnel should be in the grade E-5 and possess a seven-level or be in grade E-6 or E-7. Personnel in pay grades E-8 and E-9 may also be selected for this level of professional military education. There are eleven command NCO academies in operation, with an average student load of 123 per class. They have eight classes a year and graduate approximately 10,800 students annually.9 Only 21 percent of the total Air Force eligible enlisted personnel resource has the opportunity to receive this level of professional education.
Senior NCO Academy. The recently established Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy provides advanced professional military education for the senior NCO in pay grade E-7 if he is an E-8 selectee and those in pay grades E-8 and E-9. This school is programmed for five classes per year, with an average student load of 240 per class. This amounts to 9 percent per year of the total available strength in the rank categories eligible to receive this level of professional military education.
The current PME programs at the major command academies are effective but inconsistent. For example, some commands conduct extensive outdoor military training programs while others have no outdoor military training at all. In the area of student evaluation, some schools have purely objective pass-fail systems, some have a combination subjective and objective pass-fail system, and others have no pass-fail criteria. Even course lengths vary. Some command academy courses have a five-week program, and others have up to six weeks. There are also differences in physical training programs, in education field trips, and even in the number of instructional and administrative staff personnel.
From the foregoing, it is reasonable to conclude that we are not meeting the total needs to improve the professional ability at all levels within the NCO ranks. In a 1971 article Colonel Doyle E. Larson said: “This deficiency in NCO leadership training is affecting the USAF at a crucial point in the organization: at the middle management level, where young and inexperienced noncommissioned officers are attempting to train, discipline, and motivate large numbers of young airmen of the Now Generation.”10 These middle managers are “the vital element that should be serving as the bridge to span the generation gap which separates the colonel from the basic airman.”11 In an era when we must do more with less, we cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that “these young noncommissioned officers are forced to do their job without benefit of any formal leadership or management training.”12 It is increasingly difficult to accomplish more with less without adequate education in leadership and management techniques.
Another aspect of PME must be discussed when considering the question of effectiveness and relevance of the current PME programs: the core curriculum.
In his article Colonel Larson states:
AFR 50-39 does not presently outline a course of training that will do the job. That course must be revised to provide greater emphasis on human relations, understanding human nature, and personalized leadership techniques based on a knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the youth of today . . . . Leadership schools must be opened up throughout the Air Force, on each base . . . .13
Since the publication of Colonel Larson’s article, the core curricula for both the leadership schools and the NCO academies are being reviewed annually by major commands. Functioning workshops between various academies have dedicated themselves to update and recommend changes in core curriculum. Because of these annual reviews, there have been some increases of time allowed to the areas of greatest concern at the middle-management level. At present approximately 26 percent of the core curriculum, in both the leadership schools and noncommissioned officer academies, is devoted to the areas of human relations, understanding human resources, and personalized management.
Control and continuous improvement of enlisted professional military education are vital, if we expect to attain the goals that have been established to prepare the enlisted airmen for positions of greater responsibility throughout their careers.
To have more effective enlisted PME programs, there are several things that could be done to eliminate the inconsistencies and allow for future expansion of the enlisted PME programs; i.e., centralized control with decentralized facilities could be established. Under this system each command would still operate its own academy; however, the Air University would oversee a program of standardization. Areas that could be effectively standardized are military training programs, evaluation systems, improved school facilities, increase in school faculties in order to accommodate an increased student load, and teaching methods. As the enlisted PME programs continue to expand and improve, Air University could coordinate such things as guest speaker/lecturer programs, faculty enrichment programs, instructor assignments (exchange programs between command academies), and even printed text materials. Additionally, leadership schools could be more effectively structured while operating under the decentralized control of base education and training offices with Air University monitorship. Furthermore, Air University could become the office of primary responsibility for AFR50-39.
With the mandate of an all-volunteer force, greater emphasis should be given to leadership and management in all the enlisted PME programs. General Ryan and others have stated that more work must be done and done better by fewer people, but immediate corrective action must be taken so as to give effective leadership and management training for junior noncommissioned officers, the E-4 and E-5 working supervisors who make the first contact with the young airman.14 This statement is just as applicable to the middle managers—the E-6, E-7, and senior noncommissioned officers.
If we are to be successful in meeting the requirements levied upon us, we must also have the ability to understand the human psychology of today’s youth, those who work for us as well as those we work for. We cannot be satisfied with the current curricula and must continue to seek change if we ever hope to meet the needs of a changing Air Force. We cannot continue to relegate ourselves to 1950 management techniques if we expect to meet the Air Force objective in a rapidly changing culture.
The deficiencies of noncommissioned officers in broad background and education limit the effectiveness of their leadership and management abilities. More important, the limited number of NCO personnel who are afforded an opportunity to attend Air Force professional schools points to the increased importance of establishing additional leadership schools for the junior noncommissioned officer and centralized controls for the existing noncommissioned officer academies.
The need to broaden the education of today’s force has been stressed many times throughout the past years. In light of the increasing demands of doing more with less, as efficiently and effectively as possible, the effort to standardize professional military education opportunities for all enlisted personnel must not cease. Some years ago Major General J. V. Edmundson cited this need for education:
If our Air Force is to live up to the trust placed in it, if it is to continue to possess the professional competence necessary to utilize to best advantage the current and future complex and exotic weapons systems that are entering our inventory; if it is to maintain familiarity with all sciences and skills necessary to develop, support and fight with these new families of weapons; then our Air Force needs, in a real sense, educated and enlightened leadership.15 That kind of leadership is the goal of the Air Force professional military education programs. With such leadership, the Air Force will be able to meet its future challenges.
Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy
1. Major Charles G. Randle, “Optimum Utilization of Senior Noncommissioned Officer,” unpublished thesis, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 1963, p. 9.
2. AFSAF 100-14-1, “AFSA 1973 Programming Conference Projects,” Washington, D.C., November 1973.
3. Randle, p. 9.
4. Department of the Air Force, Career Fact Book for the Air Force Officer, p. 24.
5. Air Force Regulation 50-39, “Noncommissioned Officer Professional Military Education,” 22 April 1973, para 2, p. 10.
6. Ibid., para 2, p. 6.
7. Curriculum Catalog, “USAF Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy,” Air University, Gunter AFS, Alabama, 1973, p. 12.
8. AFSAF 100-14-1.
10. Colonel Doyle E. Larson. “Impending Crisis in Air Force Leadership,” Air University Review, XXIII, 1 (November-December 1971), p. 19.
13. Ibid., p. 20.
15. Major General J. V. Edmundson, USAF, an address, “The United States Air Force in Long Range Qualitative Educational Requirements,” Washington, D.C., 17 October 1960, quoted in Report of Symposium on Long Range Qualitative Educational Requirements, pp. 24-29.
Chief Master Sergeant Donald S. Beshore is Chief, Leadership and Management Department, Air National Guard Noncommissioned Officer Academy, ANG Professional Military Education Center, Knoxville, Tennessee. He has served in a number of related positions in the Guard during his 23-year career. He was selected as the ANG Professional Military Education Center’s Instructor of the Year in 1973 and nominated for Outstanding Airman of the Year in the Air National Guard. Sergeant Beshore is a graduate of ANG NCO Academy and the USAF Senior NCO Academy.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.