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First Sergeant Academy curriculum, organization mirrors total force

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy speaks to students at the First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala., on Feb. 23, 2010.(Air Force photo/Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy speaks to students at the First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala., on Feb. 23, 2010.(Air Force photo/Melanie Rodgers Cox)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- The life of an Air Force first sergeant is truly a tale of two experiences. There exists the joy of watching Airmen receive well-deserved promotions and recognition, and there is the disappointment and sadness at receiving a 3 a.m. phone call from a law enforcement desk or casualty affairs. These experiences are not unique to first sergeants working in any component, but methods of processing promotions and legal actions vary considerably for active, Guard and Reserve members.

The instructors at the Air Force First Sergeant Academy here ensure future first sergeants understand issues specific to their component and the Air Force as a whole through their total-force curriculum. Implemented under the direction of former Air Force FSA commandant, Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Bishop, more than four years ago, total-force classroom time comprises 80 percent of the curriculum.

"We have a healthy mix of everything a first sergeant needs to know. A first sergeant is a first sergeant is a first sergeant," said Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Shaw, FSA director of education and a member of the Air National Guard. "We bring in people to make a flight from all components. When the students are in their classes and the uniforms are on, they don't know if the person to their left is active duty, Guard or Reserve."

Class seats are usually doled out to each component based upon its numbers. Approximately 80 percent of the seats are filled by active-duty and guard students, while the remaining 20 percent are usually filled by reservists. Twenty-five hours are devoted to component-specific instruction.

"Roughly 80 percent of the training is geared toward creating first sergeants who can be successful in any environment," said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Peek, an Air Force AFA instructor who is also a member of the Air National Guard.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Michael Bellerose, an Air Force reservist and outgoing director of education, the FSA lives out the total-force concept like no other organization.

"We're not just total force in name. We have three different training plans that address issues unique to each component," he said. "We truly appreciate that we have people from each component in our courses and we ensure our curriculum meets the demands of all the components without neglecting anyone. I think we do that well."

The total-force policy was promulgated by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird in 1970. In his 1973 Annual Defense Department Report, Secretary Laird further commented on the trends of the total force when he wrote, "The conceptual thrust of the total force is toward the efficient integration of all relevant free-world resources to provide more security for all of us. (It) demands a new order of coordination and cooperation."

The total-force concept extends beyond the curriculum and is represented in the organizational structure of the academy. Instructors from each component serve at the academy. All are capable of teaching the total-force curriculum. Sergeant Bellerose is a living example of the versatility of the academy's staff. He has served in numerous capacities at the academy, as an instructor, director of operations and the interim commandant.

"No one component owns any position," said Sergeant Bellerose. "At the academy everything is pretty well shared."

Senior Master Sgt. Danny Doucette, the Air National Guard course director at the academy, was a student in the first total-force curriculum class. He said the integrated curriculum creates an excellent opportunity for networking with other first sergeants.

"It was the first time at the professional military education level that I spent any significant amount of time with people from other components," Sergeant Doucette said. "I am still in contact with some of my classmates. When we have an issue we've never encountered, we call each other up and ask for advice."

One way the academy instructors hammer the universality of the position into their students is through case studies. These scenarios provide students with an opportunity to apply flightroom instruction into real-world experiences.

"The case studies are incorporated from real-life experiences of first sergeants in the field," Sergeant Shaw said . "Those stories and experiences leave long-lasting impressions on our students. Our goal is to get the components talking to one another."

One of the main goals of the curriculum is to reinforce the idea that a first sergeant holds a place of prominence to Airmen regardless of component.

"When an Airman sees that diamond on your sleeve, he doesn't know whether you just walked out of school or whether you are in the Guard or Reserve," Sergeant Scott said. "An Airman expects you to be able to help him. As a first sergeant, you have to be able to speak the language."

"A lot of people don't realize that there are times when an active-duty first sergeant deploys, and we have a reservist or guardsman come in and backfill," said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Frank, Pentagon first sergeant duty manager. "A guardsman contacted me recently, and asked me if he could go and backfill at basic military training because he liked being around the basic trainees. Those types of opportunities are possible, and that's why we need to ensure our Guard and Reserve first sergeants are learning the same things as the regular Air Force."

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