Air Force NCO training takes on international flavor

  • Published
  • By Mike Joseph
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Public Affairs
The NCO course at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland helps to fulfill a key U.S. Air Force priority of partnering with joint and coalition teams to win today's fight.

The Inter-American Noncommissioned Officer Academy course integrates U.S. Air Force NCOs into the class with Latin American partner nation students to further foster IAAFA's mission to create enduring Inter-American partnerships through education and training.

The INCOA course prepares NCOs for more advanced leadership and management responsibilities through instruction on improved leadership skills. It is the next level of professional military education designed for those who will assume senior NCO leadership positions.

The Barnes Center for Enlisted PME at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., developed the curriculum under Air University guidelines. U.S. Air Force students, who must be fluent in speaking, reading, and writing Spanish, receive full NCO Academy credit upon completion.

Current course students said the mixture of U.S. Air Force and Latin American NCOs in the classroom creates an atmosphere conducive to establishing professional relationships.

Tech. Sgt. Janeth Cubeddu, assigned to the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks City-Base, Texas, said before the 8-week course was completed she'd establish bonds with several Latin American students she expects to be long lasting.

"We've been talking about this in and out of class," said Cubeddu, originally from Venezuela. "In the future, if we have the opportunity of working together, it's going to be easier. And, we're building relationships with students from more than one country."

The INCOA class, which graduates Dec. 12, had eight Latin American students from Chile, Paraguay and Panama, and two U.S. Air Force students.

Chilean army SG2 Claudio Lopez-Ramirez, an NCO school instructor in his homeland, said having U.S. Air Force NCOs in the course reassures the Latin American students of their equal status with the U.S. students.

"By having the U.S. and Latin Americans NCOs in the same room, I can see there are no hidden agendas," Lopez-Ramirez said through Cubeddu, who served as his translator. "We're both getting the same type of professional development.

"The course has given me the tools to become a better leader," he added. "By having this experience, I'm able to go back to my country and share the concepts and implement the tools I've used here."

Col. Marc Stratton, IAAFA commandant, said integrating U.S. Air Force students into the class is beneficial now, and will pay dividends in the future.

"Our mission at IAAFA is to build partnerships within the Americas, and we use training and education as a means to that end," Stratton said. "There is no better experience for a U.S. Air Force NCO than to attend class with their counterparts from Latin American countries.

"The relationships built become personal, and those relationships clearly outlast graduation day," Stratton said. "With the Internet, email and social media, these military members can maintain communication with each other - we see it happen every day. When these leaders of tomorrow come out of this classroom, they have a bond."

Master Sgt. Christian Castillo, IAAFA International Professional Military Education flight chief, agreed with the IAAFA commander about the bonds that are built.

"The course brings together complete strangers, from both Latin American countries and the U.S., in one room," said Castillo. "They come in as strangers and equals, and when they finish the course, they leave almost as family members.

"Through their daily interaction in the course, they realize that although we may represent different countries and have different ways of doing and thinking about things, we as NCOs have the same concerns, stressors and challenges," he said. "We're able to identify with each other even more and realize that maybe perceptions or ideas we had about each other were not accurate. It breaks down barriers."

Stratton said it was largely through the efforts of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy that the INCOA course is available to U.S. Air Force NCOs.

"Chief Roy was instrumental in getting our NCOs into the course here," Stratton said. "Our partner nations see U.S. personnel attending this course and there's no question about its credibility."

The IAAFA course is one of several initiatives Air Force officials are pursuing to increase NCO interaction and training on an international scale.

At the Pentagon, Senior Master Sgt. Manny Pineiro is charged with facilitating enlisted relationships between U.S. and partner nation airmen. He is assigned to the Air Force International Affairs Directorate's International Airmen Division. The division monitors the selection, training and support of the international enlisted PME program.

"International relations is one of the most exciting components of our Air Force," said Pineiro. "Establishing a familiar dialogue, especially through regional and global efforts that concentrate on cultures and ethnicities, is relevant to everyone involved."

Joint and international enlisted PME opportunities are set up to develop leaders from a cultural and regional perspective.

International enlisted PME opportunities for U.S. Airmen currently exist with Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, and added most recently, South Africa. Officials are also seeking other nations to partner with, in this capacity, in the future.

"These professional opportunities are increasing for our enlisted corps," said Pineiro. "If we have a better understanding of our cultural differences, then it will assist the common goal of working together to be effective leaders."

Selection rules for these opportunities are similar to those for sister-service schools. Selections will be competitive and confirmed by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.