Air & Space Power Journal - Español Tercer Trimestre 2005

USAF Enlisted Professional Military Education

MSgt Terence D. Henderson, USAF

USAF Enlisted Professional

In today’s Air Force, few question the necessity and value of a well-educated and trained force, their appreciation has been for the immediate and not the long-term impact on leadership development. The benefits from an academic program include an increase in technical or disciplinary knowledge, and from Enlisted Professional Military Education (EPME) and training programs they include exposure to the "big picture" of USAF operations and networking with other members of the joint and service team. Increasingly, EPME offers deliberate broadening into new arenas of operations related to the individual’s narrower specialty by way of elective courses and research efforts. The Air Force expects graduates of all learning institutions and programs to gain increased knowledge, broadened perspectives, and renewed enthusiasm. This benefits not only the individuals, but also their specialty and the larger Air Force.

Rising Appreciation of the Enlisted Corps

Some military historians and 20th Century social commentators have voiced their opinions concerning the rise of the professional American NCO Corps during the mid to late part of the century. This rise or possibly just recognition from academics reached a crescendo after the end of the "Cold War" and through the Gulf War. For the first time since Vietnam, the American public by way of media could see first-hand the results of military training, technology, and professional education carried out live and into their homes on CNN and other news networks. Several historians and military leaders have advanced the concept that the one difference between the East Bloc trained and Russian dominated military and the U.S. military establishments was the central and critical leadership role played by American enlisted personnel and in particular the role played by the NCO. This role was highlighted by a Western orientation towards developing individual authority, initiative, responsibility, and leadership of small groups in support of and in combat. Professional Military Education (PME) was and is the centerpiece of the Air Force enlisted and NCO Corps development and supported this concept and theory.

The Beginnings of a Foundation

Almost from the very start, the Air Force wanted to develop a strong NCO Corps although it would be several years before true enlisted professional military education could begin in earnest. The Air Force, after World War II understood the need for professional and educational development. General Henry H. Arnold and Dr Theodore von Karman examined this need in the pioneering studies of 1946 called "Toward New Horizons." This series of studies forecasted--the scientific and technological needs of the new service well into the 1960s. One of the criteria set forth was the continuing need to train officers on how to use and understand this new technology. Therefore, from its beginning the Air Force sought to promote and foster the use of technology. As an outgrowth of this desire to harness new technologies, the Air Force needed a strong educational and technical-based training system with professional military education being one of the linchpins of the system. As the officer PME system developed, Air Force leadership began to see the need for a corresponding system for enlisted personnel. The Air Force had developed a premier technical training system for the enlisted population but core leadership development had been slighted because of the technological emphasis. The Air Force trained airmen to be technicians at the expense of more advanced leadership and management skill development.

The earliest professional military education could of course be traced back to Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge, and then forward to military theorists and educators like Emory Upton and others. Still for the fledging Air Force, one would have to look to the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell as a starting point. But for strictly enlisted PME, the 1950s was the beginning of a renaissance for enlisted education. During the period of 1950-1959, the Air Force suffered growing pains and this was especially apparent in the field of enlisted PME. The reduction of officer corps population after World War II and the Korean War reemphasized the importance of having qualified NCOs capable of accepting middle management responsibilities.1

Beginning in 1950, enlisted personnel became involved in Professional Military Education, many for the first time in their careers. The first official NCO academy opened at Wiesbaden, West Germany in 1950, under USAFE General Order No. 207 issued on 23 November 1949. Although credited as the first NCO Academy, the Wiesbaden school was known at the time as the USAFE Academy of Leadership and Management. The curriculum adapted from sections of the Senior Military Management Course and from subjects offered by the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania became the core of leadership training for the enlisted force.2 Although some training was accomplished in other commands prior to this, USAFE was the first command to begin codifying enlisted PME into a set curriculum. After closing its doors in March 1951, the Wiesbaden experiment was followed by the opening of the SAC NCO Academy at West Drayton, England in November 1952. Although only two-weeks in duration, the school was the first Air Force certified academy and operated until its closure in December 1957. West Drayton served as a training ground for development of curriculum and soon other commands began planning and establishing similar institutions.3

Over 625 students completed studies at West Drayton during its first year of operation. The original curriculum focused on Leadership, Personnel Management, Drill and Ceremonies, Safety, and Customs and Courtesies. The initial enlisted staff at West Drayton included instructors MSgt John D. Hampton and MSgt Hugh P. Giles, woodworker A2C George Deschamplain, and TSgt Raymond F. Manzer loaned as an observer and potential instructor from another base organization. With the success of the West Drayton experience behind them, leaders from the Strategic Air Command (SAC) established three other academies in quick succession. Field grade officers in the rank of Major manned the SAC commandant positions. The four original commandants included Maj Arthur James, 7th Air Division, West Drayton; Maj Robert B. Shea, 15th Air Force, March AFB, CA; Maj Charles W. Sampson, 2nd Air Force, Barksdale AFB, LA; and Maj Richard S. Wilson, 8th Air Force, Bergstrom AFB, TX.4 Other commands such as Military Air Transport Service (MATS) began establishing NCO Academies; the MATS Academy opened at Orlando AFB, Florida on October 19, 1954.

The Headquarters, Technical Training Air Force (forerunner of AETC), had meanwhile began an initiative to develop a parallel NCO training program in May 1952. The Training Analysis and Development Unit at Lackland began curriculum development on the project in early June and completed development on August 5, 1952. The first class of 15 NCOs began the training at Lackland on the same day. Students had lessons on "Leadership in the Air Force," "The Art of Leadership," and "Practical Problems in NCO Leadership."5

The NCO Academies became known as "Senior NCO Academies," because they were designed to educate the two most senior grade airmen, Technical Sergeants and Master Sergeants. This left a vacuum for the enlisted grades in terms of leadership and management training. Soon as an offshoot to NCO Academy program, several major commands began planning and implementing NCO Preparatory Schools which later changed to NCO Leadership Schools. The first certified NCO Preparatory (Leadership) School stood up in October 1953 and closed its doors in May 1955 at Upper Heyford, England. These preparatory schools patterned themselves along the lines of the academy program with similar curriculum topics but taught to a lesser level and in a shorter time frame.

Codifying the PME Process

General Curtis E. LeMay served as the first guest speaker at an NCO Academy graduation at West Drayton, England. Upon returning to HQ SAC, he ordered that work should start on drafting a regulation to govern NCO PME at schools under SAC control. SAC Regulation 50-23, Non-Commissioned Officer Academies, was ready for his signature on January 2, 1954. So initially, enlisted PME began within the major commands and first formalized by SAC, began to grow and flourish under the major command umbrella.6

General Nathan F. Twining, USAF Chief of Staff took the next step in codifying enlisted PME when he signed the first AFR 50-39, Noncommissioned Officer Training, on January 30, 1957. With implementation of this regulation, for the first time the Air Force spelled out the mission of enlisted PME. Stated simply, it gave the NCO academy a mission to assure that the noncommissioned officer was aware of his/her full responsibility and to increase their ability to fulfill proper roles in the Air Force. This first regulation outlined four types of training courses which included NCO Preparatory Training, Senior NCO Academy, Accredited Senior NCO Academy and Accredited NCO Preparatory Training. At this time, a total of 22 preparatory training courses and eight senior NCO academies operated at overseas and continental U.S. locations. One year later, this list of accredited schools had grown to 53 preparatory training courses and 12 academies.7

During the 1960s, AFR 50-39 and enlisted PME changed only twice. However, the two changes implemented were important and significant for enlisted personnel. The August 1960 revision to AFR 50-39 allowed only two courses, the accredited NCO Academies and accredited NCO Preparatory Schools, thus eliminating Air Force recognition of unofficial and locally sponsored courses. Also the formation of the E-8/E-9 ranks by Congress in the 1950s forced NCO Academies to open more doors and expand to accommodate the grades of E-6 to E-9. Preparatory Schools (later Leadership Schools) maintained the E-4 to E-5 grade spread. The biggest change in the 1960s came with implementation of the 1965 revision when the regulation title changed to NCO Professional Military Education. Now for the first time NCO leadership training courses upgraded to military education status. Also in 1965, preparatory schools received the designation as NCO Leadership Schools and for both NCO Academies and Leadership Schools formal award programs were established. The baseline for these awards were the honor graduate (excellence as a scholar and leader), academic award (excellence as a scholar), commandant's award (excellence as a leader), and distinguished graduates (top 10 percent of each class). By the mid-1960s, the Air Force boasted 10 academies and 37 leadership schools.8

From 1970 to 1979, Air Force Regulation 50-39 underwent four revisions affecting enlisted PME. The January 1970 edition created the authority for graduates to wear the NCO Academy Graduate Ribbon, allowed other service NCOs to attend courses, and established the NCO Academy Graduate Association.9

As a side note, before the ribbon, a pale blue tab (approximately 2 inches) was worn on the left shoulder epaulet of the Class A uniform. This NCO Academy graduate tab was authorized in the early 1960s and was later replaced by the ribbon.

Gunter Noncommissioned Officer Academy

Gunter Noncommissioned Officer Academy

In April 1978, the Air Force changed AFR 50-39 and added the NCO Orientation Course and USAF Supervisors Course as the first two phases or levels of enlisted PME. With the NCO Leadership School becoming the third phase, NCO Academy the fourth phase, and the Senior NCO Academy, the fifth and final phase in the enlisted PME system. For the first time, completion of enlisted PME became a requirement for promotion as each airman promoted to E-4 on or after June 1, 1976 had to complete the NCO Orientation Course prior to appointment to NCO status.

Creation of the Air Force Senior NCO Academy

However, the most significant milestone for NCOs and enlisted PME in the 1970s occurred on January 17, 1972 with the establishment of the Senior NCO Academy (SNCOA) by USAF Decision Number D-72-8. To further codify this action and provide initial guidance on SNCOA formation, Air University published AU Regulation 23-23, USAF Senior NCO Academy, on July 1, 1972. The academy activated and was assigned to Air University on that same date. Colonel Robert K. McCutchen served as the first Senior NCO Academy Commandant. From the start, the SNCOA had the specific mission of preparing selected senior noncommissioned officers for positions of greater responsibility by improving and broadening their leadership and managerial capabilities and by expanding their perspective of the military profession.10

Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute

Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute

The SNCOA course length was originally set for nine weeks in duration for E-8s with less than 23 years total active military service and E-9s with less than 25 years total active military service as the target group eligible to attend. At the same time, more selective criteria was adopted concerning weight standards, control rosters, enlisted performance ratings and retainability to determine student eligibility and capability for enrollment. The Air Force also implemented the USAF Senior NCO Academy Nonresident Course by correspondence in January 1974 as a method to allow more participation from the NCO Corps because since its inception, the SNCOA had restricted attendance to only those eligible E-8/E-9s fitting the selection criteria.

The pilot class 73-A conducted course work from January 9 through March 8, 1973 and was comprised of 120 students from across the Air Force. This initial group of students included 42 Chief Master Sergeants, 65 Senior Master Sergeants, and 13 Master Sergeants (E-8 selectees). CMSgt Daniel F. Kedzierski assigned to the SNCOA and attending the course served as Class President. The first class also had the distinction of originating an NCO Hall of Fame in the Academic Building of the Academy (a forerunner of today's USAF Enlisted Heritage Hall). From the class, the first plaque had the following inscription:

"Proving what they can do is the heritage of today's Air Force Noncommissioned Officer. The first class dedicates this Hall to the faculty and future students whose educational endeavors will contribute to the fulfillment of that legacy. You are prepared to do more."

By the mid-1980s most enlisted PME schools had transitioned from officer to NCO commandant positions. On May 13, 1983, the Senior NCO Academy followed suit when CMSgt Bobby G. Renfroe assumed duties as the first enlisted commandant. Since that time five Chiefs have served in this, one of the most prestigious enlisted positions of command responsibility.

Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve and Enlisted PME

The Air National Guard (ANG) has a long history of involvement in enlisted PME. Although Air Force enlisted personnel had been graduating from NCO Academies for years, ANG personnel and to a lesser degree Air Force Reservists had little opportunity to do the same. In 1966, the ANG Director, Maj Gen I.G. Brown, visited the Air Defense Command (ADC) NCOA in California. He found a motivated and educated class in session and was impressed. He returned to his duties convinced that he must bring the PME experience to ANG enlisted people. He envisioned this action would help make the ANG an integral part of the Total Force Concept and better integrate the Guard into the Air Force structure. General Brown also believed that the Air Force Reserve could benefit from this effort as they suffered some of the same limitations. He then directed his staff to research the potential for ANG and USAFR attendance at one or more of NCO Academies. His staff reported that because of the length of classes, six weeks in duration, part-time personnel from the ANG and USAFR couldn't secure time away from their civilian employers to attend an established Air Force NCO academy.

The Air National Guard then decided to establish an NCO Academy to serve the ANGs unique set of needs. This decision initiated a search for an Air National Guard location to establish the Air National Guard Noncommissioned Officer Academy. General Brown found and choose the location at McGhee Tyson Air Force Base, Knoxville, Tennessee. Overcoming the first hurdle, and determining a location was the easy part of the process. The next obstacle to overcome dealt with the length of the curriculum. Through coordinated efforts between the Air Force and ANG, the ADC NCO Academy staff developed a curriculum which could be taught in two separate two-week phases spread out over a two-year time frame. These two-week phases meshed well with annual Guard and Reserve training requirements. Selected NCOs substituted two separate phases of PME attendance in lieu of attending annual training.

General Brown understood that to organize a viable NCO Academy meant that he must get the right person to form a nucleus for this new undertaking. He then reached back to the ADC NCO Academy and selected CMSgt Paul H. Lankford, then Deputy Commandant at ADC to become the first Deputy Commandant of the ANG NCO Academy. All NCO Academies at that time had officer commandants and enlisted deputy commandants. A Texas ANG officer Maj Edmund C. Morrisey was General Brown's pick as the Commandant. The first class at McGhee Tyson graduated in July 1968. To ensure continuity in the program and additional education, more staff and additional courses were added, including a NCO Leadership School. At this point, the NCO Academy and NCO Leadership School combined to become a NCO PME Center with Chief Lankford assuming the duties as the first enlisted commandant. Major Morrisey became the McGhee Tyson NCO PME Center commander. Since Chief Lankford, eight other ANG CMSgts have served in the Commandant position.11

Establishment of The College for Enlisted PME

One of the most important developments in the evolution of enlisted PME occurred when the Air Force created the College for Enlisted Professional Military Education (CEPME) in November 1993. Headquartered at Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex, Alabama, the College assigned to Air University received wing equivalency status with Squadron Officer School (SOS), Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), and the Air War College (AWC). More importantly it centralized all CONUS NCO Academies and the SNCOA organizationally under one chain of command, and established a cadre of curriculum developers to write and standardize curriculums for each level of enlisted PME. Prior to the creation of the College, AFR 50-39, the governing regulation for PME had been redesignated at AFR 53-39 with the same title. This simple redesignation took PME out of the training regulation series and place it squarely into school series regulations. In addition, when the College was organized in 1993, the vice commandant's position became the first and only enlisted deputy commander billet with deputy senior rater authority in the Air Force.

Later, in 1994 as the Air Force converted from regulations to instructions this governing document was incorporated into Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2301, Professional Military Education, which governed all PME. With implementation of this AFI, all PME came under the auspices of Air University and moved selection for attendance to HQ Air Force Personnel Center, who then in turn allocated quotas to the major commands. In addition, in-residence became the main attendance requirement for schools. In concert with these actions, the Air Force eliminated the E-4 Sergeant rank which necessitated a name change for the NCO Leadership School which became the Airman Leadership School. Attending various levels of PME became synonymous with gaining additional promotions. For example, the rank of Staff Sergeant could not be held until completion of ALS, and Master Sergeant could not be assumed until completion of the NCOA, and finally, the rank of Chief Master Sergeant remained contingent upon successful completion of the SNCOA. In addition to this requirement, Educational Programs Cadre in conjunction with the SNCOA developed the first ever EPME course for chief master sergeant selects. The Chiefs Leadership Course (CLC) provides newly selected chief master sergeants a strategic perspective of the Air Force and its mission. The 8-day academic course will consist of 33 application-level lessons. The inaugural CLC class was held in February of this year.

The college headquarters provides oversight for 11 separate academy campuses. These campuses include the Senior NCO Academy, the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, and nine NCO academies. Additionally, the college maintains control of the Educational Programs Cadre (EPC) which provides the curriculum for all three enlisted PME programs: Airman Leadership Program, NCO Program, and the Senior NCO Program. In 2004, these operations comprised a total of 117 classrooms, approximately 550 personnel which produced nearly 7,800 graduates each year.

As an adjunct to and under the command of HQ CEPME and tied directly to all enlisted PME curriculums is the USAF Enlisted Heritage Hall. The hall started with the idea and at the direction of CMSgt Bobby Renfroe, SNCOA Commandant, in 1983. CMSgt Wayne L. Fisk, one of the most decorated airman of the Vietnam War became the first director in 1984 and under his guidance and tutelage the hall was transformed into the showcase of enlisted history and heritage. Originally housed in a World War II vintage building the hall received a much needed facelift in 1997. Future plans call for construction of a two-story 29,000 square foot facility to house and display the enlisted story. The hall's mission centers on supporting educational programs of CEPME by preserving and displaying portions of the Air Force enlisted heritage.

Enlisted PME has made a journey from a major command initiated and based training program of limited scope to a mature world-wide and technology-based educational system, administered through and supported by the College for Enlisted PME at Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex. This system is geared to meet the enlisted education needs of the 21st Century and reaches one of the goals suggested by General Arnold and Dr von Karman over 50 years ago--for the Air Force to educate and train its people on how to be leaders in a technology-based service.

April of this year, a team met to review the policies, vision and organization of EPME. The team was led by Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Airmen Development and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray and included command chief master sergeants from each major command, representatives from the Air University and College for Enlisted Professional Military Education, and functional experts.

"This conference of EPME experts and other key enlisted leaders from each of the MAJCOMs focused on the future of EPME within the broader context of professional development for our Air Force enlisted corps. Policy changes evolving from this session highlight the expectation that all airmen complete formal PME courses as a part of the professional growth needed during their Air Force careers.

 Today, the Air Force is transforming the way it manages and develops its enlisted force as part of a servicewide change in professional development.

"For more than a year now … we have begun major cultural changes in the Air Force, a new vision -- how to best develop our force for the future"

"It’s a historic time, and a first step in our enlisted force development, as we look at the ability to place the right leadership in the right place at the right time in our Air Force," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray. "In February, our senior leadership agreed to move the management of chief master sergeants from the Air Force Personnel Center to the AFSLMO, recognizing our chief master sergeants as senior leaders."

Notes

1 U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall student paper written by SMSgt Murray, February 22, 1996, Enlisted Professional Military Education: A Journey Through Time, pp.2.

2. Magee, Ernest M., Lt Col, "The Evolution of NCO Academies," Air University Review, Sep-Oct 66, pp 57.

3. Bednarek, Janet R., "The Enlisted Experience: A Conversation with the Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force," Air Force History and Museum Program, 1995, p 3.

4. "NCO Academies Ready at Three SAC Base," Air Force Times, March 20, 1954, pp. 9.

5. Hist, Lackland AFB, TX, Jul-Dec 52, pp. 94-95; Williford, Robert C. CMSgt, Evolution of the Enlisted Grade Structure (1947-1957), extract, n.d., pp. 106-108.

6. U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall student paper written by SMSgt Johnson, W.R., May 4, 1994, The History of Air Force In-Residence Enlisted Professional Military Education (Active Duty), pp. 3.

7. See note above, pp. 4.

8. U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall student paper written by SMSgt Murray, February 22, 1996, Enlisted Professional Military Education: A Journey Through Time, pp. 4-5; U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall student paper written by SMSgt Johnson, W.R., May 4, 1994, The History of Air Force In-Residence Enlisted Professional Military Education (Active Duty), pp. 4-5.

9. U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall, student paper written by SMSgt Murray, February 22, 1996, Enlisted Professional Military Education: A Journey Through Time, pp 5.

10. Hist, Feeder Report to Air University History, CY 1972, draft extract, n.d.

11. U.S. Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall student paper written by CMSgt David Quesenberry, April 30, 1994, A Historical Perspective of the Air National Guard Noncommissioned Officer Academy, pp. 1-3.


Contributor

MSgt Terence D. Henderson MSgt Terence D. Henderson is the superintendent, Plans and Programs, Educational Programs Cadre, College for Enlisted Professional Military Education, Gunter Annex, Maxwell AFB, AL.  Sergeant Henderson has been assigned to operational aircraft and missile maintenances squadrons; Sergeant Henderson is a graduate of the USAF Senior NCO Academy.   In his present duties, he is responsible for providing program management, policy development and procedural guidance to all levels of Enlisted Professional Military Education (EPME) worldwide. His duties impact 550 faculty members and over 78K EPME students annually at 89 schools, the USAF Chief's Leadership Course (CLC), the Inter-American Air Forces Academy (IAAFA) and related distance learning (DL) programs. He develops the USAF EPME Procedural Guidance, the definitive guidance for EPME program management, curriculum delivery and instructor training requirements. Additionally, he oversees the CEPME Program Management Review (PMR) program which consists of visits to every EPME school to evaluate program management effectiveness and curriculum implementation. Sergeant Henderson is also the HQ CEPME representative and voting member on Community College of the AF Advisory and Policy Council.

Disclaimer

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.


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