10 years later, ALS continues to evolve

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Gary Arasin
  • 9th Air Force Public Affairs
A little more than a decade old, airman leadership school has evolved in much the same way the rest of the Air Force has. Although the school and curriculum have changed with the times, one thing has not, said Tech. Sgt. Pamela Jones, an instructor and director of education at the Senior Master Sgt. David B. Reid Airman Leadership School here.

"Our No. 1 goal has always been about preparing senior airmen for supervisory roles," she said.

To help do so, ALS classes are experiencing changes in their curriculum. The changes focus on interpersonal skills in leadership applications versus the communications-skills emphasis of prior years.

With the realization that most staff sergeants do not give traditional briefings or write bullet background papers, Air University's College for Enlisted Professional Military Education staff saw the need to focus on "more practical applications," Jones said.

"We have to make sure these soon-to-be (noncommissioned officers) are ready to face the tasks of supervising airmen in today's operational environment," she said.

CEPME developers designed each block of the three curriculum areas -- profession of arms, leadership and communications -- as a building block for the next. For example, Jones said, writing skills learned in the communications area help prepare students for the leadership block of counseling where they write a counseling statement.

"We crunched a year's worth of learning into five weeks," she said. "We are not only teaching them the skills, but also the theory behind (the skills)."

Another important element of ALS is the practical application of team-building skills, said Master Sgt. Gary Devault, the school's flight commander.

"We teach them team development, just like the team they belong to in the duty section," he said. "We basically put a label on all the things they may already be doing."

Air Force leadership realized these practical leadership skills, which are a focus at the NCO academy, needed to be taught earlier in an airman's career. Devault said ALS' building-block approach benefits students regardless of their future intentions.

"The leadership and teamwork skills we teach become invaluable tools," he said. "The skills will benefit them even if they decide to leave the Air Force."

While the Air Force faced the challenges of shrinking budgets and a changing world in the first half of the 1990s, ALS faced its own adversities toward the end of the decade. With growing numbers of people selected for staff sergeant, the school tackled the logistics issues brought by a deluge of students. Devault said all changes, no matter how small, cost money.

"You have technology costs (computers) and classroom furniture," he said. "Even simple things such as reproduction costs incurred by curriculum changes really begin to add up."

Schools at Shaw and other bases alleviated the crunch in several ways. Aside from more frequent and larger classes, the schools eliminated the "in-residency" requirement, only maintaining dormitory rooms for temporary-duty students. While a school's command supplies its budget, schools also look to their bases for help.

"We get units who supply things for the school, such as folks who built the cabinets for our enlisted heritage room," Devault said. "The wing has been tremendous in its support."

The biggest challenge, Jones said, tends to be the negative attitudes some students bring to the school.

"Students hear things in their duty section and sometimes develop a preconceived notion of what we are about," she said. "It becomes difficult to teach them how this course will further their career and the benefits to be gained."

One aspect of school attendance that can be viewed as both a hindrance and benefit is a result of expeditionary Air Force, Jones said. Students have to attend ALS before they can sew on staff sergeant. Deployments, however, wreak havoc on unit schedulers who are challenged with getting people to school before their projected promotion date. For airmen who cannot attend school before their promotion date, units must get a waiver and the individual must attend the first available class upon his or her return.

"The staff sergeants we get in class lend a different viewpoint to classroom environment," Jones said. "Even just the impression created because they have already been promoted helps lend a good spin to a class." (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)