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First senior enlisted in-residence students near graduation at AWC

Air University welcomes the first four enlisted Airmen to attend the Air War College in-residence experience during the 2016-2017 academic year. Air War College prepares annually about 250 resident and 5,000 non-resident senior students from all U.S. military services, federal agencies, and 41 nations to lead in the strategic environment. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman William Blankenship)

Air University welcomes the first four enlisted Airmen to attend the Air War College in-residence experience during the 2016-2017 academic year. Air War College prepares annually about 250 resident and 5,000 non-resident senior students from all U.S. military services, federal agencies, and 41 nations to lead in the strategic environment. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman William Blankenship)

Chief Master Sgts. Amber Mitchell, Shanece Johnson, Kimberly Vinson and Derek Crowder stand in the Air War College lobby at Maxwell Air Force Base, Feb. 23, 2017. They are the first enlisted Airmen to attend the college as in-resident students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tammie Ramsouer)

Chief Master Sgts. Amber Mitchell, Shanece Johnson, Kimberly Vinson and Derek Crowder stand in the Air War College lobby at Maxwell Air Force Base, Feb. 23, 2017. They are the first enlisted Airmen to attend the college as in-resident students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tammie Ramsouer)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- The first group of enlisted Airmen to attend Air University’s Air War College in-residence at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, is close to graduating from the Air Force’s top school for officer professional military education.

The four chief master sergeants selected for the May 2017 graduating class and their class of 240 joint field-grade and partner-nation officers and DOD civilians have been studying the employment of airpower in joint operations at the 10-month school.

“Having our top chief master sergeants in the Air Force attend the Air War College is hugely beneficial,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Coffelt, the Air War College commandant. “This is an incredible professional development opportunity for them to attend a strategic-level school with those who are our next generation of strategic senior commanders and leaders. Also, this affords our senior officers attending the course a closer view of the senior enlisted perspective.”

This journey began with the Enlisted Force Development Panel, a group of senior enlisted leaders co-chaired by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force and the Headquarters Air Force director of force development, as a way to deliberately develop chief master sergeants who may ultimately serve with senior general officers.

“This is not a new level of PME for our chief master sergeants,” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Horn, a former Air University command chief who helped lead this effort. “We have an outstanding Chief's Leadership Course that already does that. This is, instead, an opportunity for a small number of chiefs with a high potential to serve at the strategic level in our Air Force to be exposed to the learning environment that officers experience. Keep in mind the other side of this coin—this also exposes our officers to a senior enlisted perspective. That's a win for our Air Force.”

Horn was one of four chief master sergeants who took part in a pilot program in 2013-14 that allowed enlisted members to complete AWC through distance learning.

The pilot in-residence AWC class is breaking the barrier between enlisted and officer professional military education for the first time in Air University’s 70-year history.

“This raises the level of conversation we can have with our commanders,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Vinson, an AWC student and former first sergeant for Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. “It forces you to think on a strategic level.”

A goal for AWC administrators is for the enlisted students, all of whom are candidates on the command chief master sergeant list, is to have a more strategic view of the Air Force mission.

Chief master sergeants considered for the resident pilot program were screened by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force and the Command Chief Screening Board. They demonstrate a high potential for serving at the numbered Air Force, major command, and combatant command levels. They all scored in the top 10 percent of the Command Chief Screening Board, possess a bachelor’s degree, have between 18-22 years of service, meet diversity and inclusion considerations that include assignments and specialty, and are willing to incur a two- to four-year active-duty service commitment.

“Wing commanders are thinking in terms of overall strategy,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shanice Johnson, the former 31st Fighter Wing command chief, Aviano Air Base, Italy. “When you can communicate with them on that level about an operational need and communicate to them how it fits into their strategic picture, you can be more effective for the enlisted corps and for the Air Force.”

Air War College prepares annually about 250 resident and 5,000 non-resident senior students from all U.S. military services, federal agencies, and 41 nations to lead in the strategic environment. The impact of integrating senior enlisted Airmen is felt throughout all those fortunate to attend.

“I've seen how the international officers attending Air War College are able to get to know our chiefs in the courses, learning firsthand about our 'secret weapon' that enables us to generate such tremendous combat capability--a very well-educated and professional enlisted corps that takes on leadership roles within our military and provides leadership at every level of our force," Coffelt said. "Having our top senior enlisted members attend Air War College will absolutely up our game."

There have been eight chief master sergeants selected from the 2016 Command Chief Master Sergeant Candidate List to begin in-residence Air War College in the summer of 2017.

Part of the Air University commander’s vision for educating more Airmen more broadly and deeply involves breaking existing paradigms on professional military education and expanding education opportunities for all Airmen, said Horn.

“This does exactly that,” Horn said.

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