Air & Space Power Journal - Español Tercer Trimestre 2005
CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
Today nearly 500,000 of Americans finest men and women proudly serve as enlisted Airmen in our United States Air Force; a total force made up of active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, standing strong to project air and space power around the globe.
Our foundation is based on three enduring principles, "Integrity, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do." All Airmen, officer and enlisted, are expected to live and lead by these core values, they are the basis for Air Force Instructions, policies, guidance and overall focus. Articulating and reinforcing these values rests with our leadership. Every new Airman must understand the importance of shaping their actions around the core values.
America’s Air Force has always relied on strong, competent leaders, both officer and non-commissioned officer, to succeed. Today’s unprecedented global environment necessitates capable leaders at all levels. Each Airman plays a vital role in the overall success of our force. Therefore, it is our inherent responsibility and obligation to see that every Airman is given the means and support to develop to his or her full potential. In fact, one of our three core competencies is "Developing Airmen." The methodical steps we take to achieve this throughout an Airman’s career must be deliberate, well thought out, planned and executed. We have made a conscious choice to be actively engaged in every stage of an Airman’s career, and not leave personal and professional development to chance.
General John Jumper, our Air Force Chief of Staff, said as he travels around the world he’s continually asked how we field such a "talented, dedicated, and capable enlisted corps." I can assure you, it is not by chance.
We began to chart this deliberate development path back in 1952 in the beginning years of our service. The senior leaders of the time recognized how the rapid drawdown and departure of mid-level leaders following World War II left a cadre of technically- oriented personnel; however, it created a gap, or disproportionate number of experienced NCOs needed to lead the rapid build up and preparation for the Korean Conflict. To close this gap, they established the first formal Enlisted Professional Military Education Program (PME) with the goals of educating and training all NCO supervisory personnel with emphasis on the position and prestige of the NCO, fostering initiative, and developing military bearing, forcefulness and self-confidence.
As the decades progressed so did our enlisted PME focus. Leadership and responsibility concepts and principles dominate today’s curriculum. In addition to meticulous technical training, our enlisted Airmen begin formal PME at about three years in service. Every level of PME is unique and varies in intensity, length, subjects and learning objectives. The primary focus of our current PME is to develop leadership abilities, supervisory skills and to increase the understanding of, and appreciation of the profession of arms. From the completion of the first level of PME, Airmen Leadership School, our Airmen can expect to return to a classroom environment with nearly each promotion.
The Noncommissioned Officers Academy prepares our mid-level NCOs for increased responsibility and the Senior NCO Academy challenges our senior enlisted to expand their leadership capabilities. This level of PME also enables our senior non-Commissioned officers to actively engage with our sister services and allied or foreign service counterparts on a daily basis as fellow classmates. Another recent change we incorporated into every class is an exchange between our students and junior officers attending the Air and Space Basic Course at Maxwell AFB, Ala. This healthy exchange of dialogue, ideas, and interaction helps each other understand their distinctive frame of reference and unique differences of roles and responsibilities. It helps build a better relationship between our NCOs and officers, plus promotes mentorship and development of our junior officers.
Our most recent addition to formal PME is the Chief Master Sergeant Leadership Course. Here those selected to serve in our highest rank come together to polish and prepare their skills as leaders and enlisted force managers. Our chiefs must have a broader, or more strategic view of our forces and this course is specifically designed to give them the right start. Only one percent of our active-duty enlisted force will have the opportunity to serve as chief master sergeants. We must be prudent and ensure that this very limited resource is used where it will have the most impact. Development is about breadth of experience and application of leadership abilities. Chiefs hold critical leadership positions within our force and we owe them all the tools to excel.
CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
The 8th CMSAF, Sam Parish, may have summed it up best when he said, "Professional Military Education is the single greatest step taken for enlisted men and women in the short history of our Air Force."
We continually look at how we can enhance the formal education provided to Airmen through PME. In recent years we have embraced mentorship and force development as a better means to continuously improve our capabilities. We must ensure that all who ascend our ranks are afforded every tool and opportunity to become a strong and effective leader.
From daily coaching to base-level professional leadership workshops, we are maximizing our ability to share our knowledge and experiences. Cultivating tomorrow’s leaders is vital and remains a top priority.
Recently we substantially revised Air Force Instruction, 36-2618, "The Enlisted Force Structure," to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each level of the enlisted force. We must ensure every Airman understands what’s expected of them now and in the future.
The enlisted force is comprised of three distinct tiers, each correlating to increased levels of training, education technical competence, experience, leadership and managerial responsibilities. They are the Airman Tier, NCO Tier and SNCO Tier.
Airmen: This tier consists of Airman Basic, Airman, Airman First Class and Senior Airmen. Initially these Airmen are focused on adapting to the requirements of the military profession, achieving technical proficiency, and learning how to be highly productive members of our Air Force. Once they are promoted to Senior Airmen, they begin to exercise limited supervision and leadership as they prepare for increased responsibilities, while continuing to broaden their technical skills.
NCO:This tier consists of Staff Sergeants and Technical Sergeants who, in addition to continuing their technical growth and becoming expert hands-on technicians, also serve as first line supervisors. NCOs ensure their team members work together to accomplish the mission. They are responsible for training and developing the Airmen they supervise. They also continue to develop their own leadership skills in preparation for increased responsibilities.
Senior NCO:This tier consists of the top three ranks of the enlisted force, Master Sergeant, Senior Master Sergeant, and Chief Master Sergeant. Senior NCOs are the critical component of the Air Force’s ability to project air power. They have a great deal of experience and leadership ability which they use to leverage resources and personnel against a variety of mission requirements. The Senior NCO’s primary focus is on accomplishing the organization’s mission through the skillful use of teams. They also concentrate on further developing their teams and people, both technically and professionally. They are part of the decision-making process on a variety of technical, operational and organization issues. A few Senior NCOs go on to serve at the highest levels in the Air Force as strategic leaders and managers.
Each of these roles is essential for our Air Force to continue accomplishing America’s missions. We exert tremendous effort to ensure Airmen are ready to successfully fill each position. Technical training and PME are at the core of our enlisted development, but the education process doesn’t stop there.
Knowledge is power and we need our NCOs to be at the top of their game in every aspect. We place so much value on formal education that our Airmen gain college-level credits for their military education through the Community College of the Air Force.
Started in 1972, the Community College of the Air Force is the only degree-granting institution of higher learning in the world dedicated exclusively to enlisted Airman. The Community College of the Air Force is America's largest community, junior or technical college. CCAF offers a unique opportunity for motivated, career-oriented airmen and NCOs to earn a job-related, two-year undergraduate degree. Open to active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members; the college awards Associate in Applied Science degrees. The curriculum is designed to fuse technical and professional military education with off-duty education at civilian institutions. This careful mix of education from diverse sources equips graduates with information and mental tools needed for enhanced performance within their Air Force specialties. The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredits CCAF.
The end goal of CCAF is to provide our enlisted Airmen with an opportunity to gain a degree in their Air Force specialty. Additional classes needed to complete the degree can be taken at any accredited college, with many being offered by civilian colleges located on Air Force installations. The Air Force provides tuition assistance for active duty members that usually covers the entire cost of an average undergraduate class. While there is a set ceiling amount each year, most Airmen pay very little, if any, out of their pocket for curriculum needed for a two-year degree.
The clear advantage of providing the college-level accreditation for military training and funding basic tuition is reflected in our education levels throughout the enlisted force. Seventy-five percent of our mid-grade NCOs have one to three years of college and overall 44 percent of the enlisted corps has an Associate’s degree. When you look at our most senior NCOs that number elevates in the advanced degrees. Over half of our master sergeants have an Associate’s degree, while 47 percent of our Chief Master Sergeants have a Bachelor’s and 13 percent have a Master’s degree or higher.
This speaks volumes for the dedication and values our senior NCOs place on higher education. Certainly as rank increases, so does responsibility and workloads making it more difficult to find time to balance work, family and school. One primary motivation to dedicate time to formal education is to increase knowledge in their chosen field and gain a degree. The other extends to promotion boards. While a degree of any kind is not a requirement for enlisted Airmen, SNCO records are subjected to a board review and graded for promotion. Acquiring an Associate’s degree in their primary career field shows an increased level of dedication and commitment. Career-oriented Airmen are fully aware of the value of a degree and aggressively pursue it.
For a few select Airmen, the Air Force offers even more advanced education opportunity. Beginning in 2002, eight Senior NCOs were selected to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. AFIT is the Air Force's graduate school of engineering and management and institution for technical professional continuing education. Traditionally, company grade officers made up the bulk of those attending AFIT. After graduation these officers go on to contribute to our Air Force greatly with science, technology and systems skills. The 2004 graduating class was the first to see enlisted members walk across the stage. These enlisted Airmen were given specific follow-on assignments to capitalize on their newly acquired skills in an ever-increasingly complex and technical environment. The potential for increased rank and responsibility is evident along with the enhanced capabilities our technically trained and focused NCO will give our force.
Promoting the right Airmen to leadership positions is an active and on-going process. From career counseling and mentoring to writing concise performance reports, our aim as senior leaders is to groom our Airmen to become outstanding Senior NCOs. We must layout a clear roadmap for new Airmen to follow and continue guiding them along the way. Our aim is to produce technically competent professionals, build solid foundations, and develop strong leaders. This, in turn, will make outstanding senior NCOs.
It is often said NCOs are the backbone of our service. They are our front-line supervisors and have the most knowledge of the people and their mission. NCOs are also the ones with the most influence on their team. Exposure to the right training, education and experience are crucial. We have tremendous talents within our ranks and if we deliberately chart a course to develop our NCOs, we’ll have strong leaders, managers and supervisors. There is no question people are our most valuable resource and must be our first priority. We can have the most sophisticated aircraft and hardware on Earth, but if we don’t have talented, competent and motivated people to employ them, they are useless.
Developing Airmen to their fullest potential is a fundamental responsibility for every officer and NCO. We must continue to leverage all the talents of our young Airmen and groom them for additional responsibility.
We are firm believers that having the right leaders, in the right place, at the right time, combined with the right education and training produces a synergy that is a great force multiplier. The effects of these concentrated intangibles produce a ripple throughout our organizations that is invaluable. We are not "paper cutting" leaders. We have capitalized on the differences each member brings to the team. The USAF, and our sister services, have an asymmetrical advantage that is unique. We have exploited these differences to our advantage in developing Airmen.
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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