by Staff Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady
18th Wing Public Affairs
7/12/2012 – KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) — When nearly 50 senior airmen and staff sergeants graduated from Erwin Airman Leadership School here July 10, they were among the first Air Force-wide to graduate under a new test case curriculum.
Kadena Air Base’s ALS is one of seven schools in the Air Force and the only school in the Pacific teaching the curriculum.
Just like their predecessors, the student Airmen went through numerous uniform inspections, conducted drill and passed tests, but the new course focuses on teaching students what type of leader they are and the best way they can lead their subordinates.
“The focus is more on the individual,” said Master Sgt. Mark James, the Erwin ALS commandant. “It’s important to understand what type of person you are and what kind of dimension you lead from so you can apply that to your subordinate. If you’re not sure of who you are as a person or the kind of leader you are, then it’s tough to translate that to your subordinates.”
A majority of the curriculum changes revolve around discovering what type of person the students are. In order to do that, students participate in temperament personality activities, take leadership assessments and give rankings to flight members on what type of leader they think they are. Then the students have to sit down for face-to-face feedback sessions and explain the rating they gave to their peers.
“It’s a step up from what we previously had; it challenges the students in a new way,” said Tech. Sgt. Damean Moore, an Erwin ALS instructor. “We’re trying to produce a better quality NCO to take care of our Airmen. With the new curriculum, I think our future NCOs are going to return to their work centers better prepared than previous ALS students.”
Another trial to the new senior airman and staff sergeant students who pass through the halls of the PME Center comes from the new communications block of instruction. Previously, students were required to write bullets on a plain document and then discussed the enlisted performance report and performance feedbacks. Under the new lesson, the students fill out every portion of the official Air Force forms and are graded on the different sections. The students also draft decoration citations and briefings about strategic Air Force initiatives and key Air Force leader messages.
“The communications attribute received a major overhaul,” explained James. “Drafting decorations and being graded on all blocks of the EPR and PFW are welcomed changes. It hopefully instills just how important it is to pay close attention to accuracy on all Air Force forms. The level of briefings that the students are expected to deliver have also been taken to a new level. Overall, it is a much more challenging course, but one in which the students are going to leave better armed to handle what is thrown their way as first-line supervisors. Requirements for today’s senior airmen and staff sergeants were handled by technical sergeants and master sergeants just a few years ago.”
In addition to the communication course changes, the students are asked to work in groups more now than in the past. Previous ALS classes may have worked in groups a few times throughout the entire course, but under the new course, students work in groups a few times a week.
“What I enjoy most are the classroom discussions,” said Senior Airman Todd Noel, an ALS student from the 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “As we talk more, we all learn different ways on how to resolve different conflicts. That’s the most beneficial to me. That’s how I grow and that’s how I become a better leader — by getting more opinions on how things work.”
The students aren’t the only ones learning from the new curriculum. The change also requires the instructors to take a different role conducting class.
“A challenge to the curriculum has shifted for the instructor, more so in taking a more facilitator role,” Moore explained. “The instructor’s role has lessened in the classroom and put it more on the students to carry on conversations and actually teach and learn from each other. Even though that was the intent of the old curriculum, it’s even more so now.”
To ensure the Air Force’s future leaders are equipped with the right tools to be successful, changes were made to the curriculum.
“The rewrite was necessary,” said James. “It was much-needed and has been received extremely well — especially the ‘What kind of leader am I?’ focus. The focus on the individual and getting their perspective on leadership is a nice change rather than talking about and focusing on all these other great leaders and how they got there. Let’s focus on me, what kind of leader I want to be and what kind of leader I’m capable of being. Once I get that nailed down, then I can focus on these other individuals and how they got to be where they are. Individualized leadership is a key area.”
Today’s fiscally constrained environment also drove the need for some budget and resource stewardship training.
“When you look at lessons like resource stewardship that were never taught at this level, this is something brand new,” Moore said. “Senior airman (promoting) to staff sergeant now learn how to manage resources: money, people and materials. We’re teaching them how to do those things, like when budgets are due and what financial execution plans are.”
Kadena AB’s NCO Academy also implemented a new curriculum earlier this fiscal year. The test case incorporates similar concepts and principles learned in the new ALS course, which also continues through new trial curriculum for the Senior NCO Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.