By Dr. Wayne Clark, Master Sgt. David Boydston and Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane, 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 13, 2017
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Twenty-three civilian Airmen graduated from a first-of-its-kind crash course in leadership Nov. 3, 2017, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
The course, modeled after Airman Leadership School, is the only course in the Air Force to deliver leadership tools to civilians in this condensed format.
Nearly a year ago, the Keesler Airman Leadership School team developed an idea to facilitate increased professional development for civilian supervisors of active duty Airmen. Working in conjunction with the Civilian Personnel Office, Total Force Development Center and the Civilian Development Working Group, that idea has come to fruition as the first students accepted their certificates from Col. Debra Lovette, 81st Training Wing commander.
“Their success really determines our success,” said Master Sgt. David Boydston, ALS commandant. “Our civilians are leading Airmen and we need to be able to give them the tools to accomplish that mission, and I think this course has done that.”
This one-week course is designed to give civilian supervisors of active duty personnel an in-depth view of what it takes to lead and motivate Airmen. The curriculum blends key points from the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence, civilian personnel and enlisted professional military education to create a relevant, immediately applicable education base to foster growth within Airmen.
“This is not just theoretical,” Boydston said. “This is real time stuff they can take back to their units and start using tomorrow, I am really excited about it.”
Although the class is mostly comprised of civilians supervising Airmen, it also has students who work with Airmen as well as civilians with great leadership potential, selected by their commanders to attend the course as part of their professional development.
“This course is a huge step forward for Keesler [AFB’s] civilian development program,” said Dr. Wayne Clark, 81st Mission Support Group deputy director. “Our civilian professional development program is designed to provide our civilians with the training and education they need to be better Airmen and to grow and develop as individuals.”
According to Clark, Keesler AFB’s civilian professional development is arming leaders with the proper tools to affect significant change in all Airmen.
“While the opportunity exists for civilian personnel to attend Airman Leadership School, seating is limited as the ALS mission primarily focuses on the senior airman required to have the course for promotion to staff sergeant and advancement into their supervisory role,” said Boydston.
Additionally, Boydston explained ALS covers 24 academic days, making it difficult to release civilians for the duration of the course. With only two slots per ALS class available to civilians, the staff determined only 14 civilians per year could even attend the course. With 220 civilians who supervise Airmen on Keesler AFB, that was not a viable solution.
Keesler AFB’s Civilian Symposium is a five-day course, which incorporates standard leadership topics such as bullet writing, feedback and airmanship, while also fostering an increased understanding of day-to-day activities like fitness, career development courses and professional growth through private organizations or developmental special duty.
“This is a great way to teach our civilians supervisory topics by the ALS staff who develops our enlisted supervisors every day,” said Boydston.
The staff, Tech. Sgts. Cassandra Cruz, Jennifer Anderson and James Weidman, used their combined 6,000 hours of teaching experience to merge multiple training platforms into a solid program laser-focused on civilian development.
The Keesler AFB ALS staff normally takes time in between classes to prepare for the next class, but instead, they spent five days developing these 23 civilians.
“Our civilians are an integral component of our Air Force team and their supervision of our active duty Airmen directly leads to mission success or failure,” Boydston said. “Just as we develop enlisted leaders through rigorous professional military education, our civilians deserve the same opportunity to fine-tune their supervisory skills, consider leadership alternatives and network with leaders throughout the installation.”
To help Boydston and his team, Clark and Aundra Moore, chief of civilian personnel, recruited several senior civilians from across the base to mentor the class. These mentors sat in the class with the students to help guide discussion, provide insight and show support for the civilians who enrolled in the course.
Although this course is long overdue according to Clark, there are hopes this course will become a component within the Air University published curriculum to develop civilian Airmen throughout the Air Force.
“After we developed the course and announced its availability, we hoped for at least 15 volunteers,” Boydston said. “I must say we were pleasantly surprised to see how hungry our civilians were for professional development. Support from leadership around the base really helped get the program going.”
This thirst for leadership was evident on the first day of class.
“This first group of volunteer students shows the level of interest and willingness of leadership to support these types of programs,” said Clark. “The difference between this class and ALS is there is no physical fitness requirements, no pass/fail criteria and obviously a bit shorter in length.”
The course also offers an opportunity for civilians to share their experiences with each other.
The class consisted of civilians from the grades GS-05 to GS-14, prior service and no prior service, as well as Air Reserve Technicians from the 403rd Wing.
“The hope is students will develop professional relationships that will help with their continued professional development after graduation and outside of the classroom,” Clark said.
Prior to the presentation of certificates for graduation, the class also participated in a retreat ceremony. The retreat ceremony allowed the students an opportunity to feel like Airmen by being part of a military formation, which some have not done in years and others may have never experienced.
“Obviously taking these civilians out of their work centers for a week is impactful,” said Boydston, “but being able to give them the tools to lead and create Airmen…there is no way to put a price tag on that. It’s immeasurable.”