By Tech. Sgt. Jasmin Taylor, 919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 18, 2014
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Airmen nervously step into the Airman Leadership School auditorium as they take the first steps toward an Air Force milestone. For a few, it will be the first of many in their careers. These Airmen will be given the necessary tools to be successful leaders and supervisors in the Air Force as they prepare to ascend from junior enlisted to NCO's.
The instructors of Eglin's Enlisted Professional Development Center are responsible for those Airmen reaching that goal. Approximately 287 students split into seven classes attend ALS per year. The current class has four instructors in charge of three flights totaling 41 students.
"I enjoy the interaction with the Airmen," said Staff Sgt. Adam Elerson, who became an instructor a year and a half ago. "Each student's take on the curriculum and general discussion topics is different, so I get a chance to learn from them as well."
ALS is required for all Airmen when they reach 48 months time in service or when they are selected for promotion to staff sergeant.
"This is a stepping stone for the students to transition from Airman to NCO," said Staff Sgt. Nellie Black, ALS instructor. "This is where they become more aware and learn things they haven't learned already in the military."
The student atmosphere in the first few days of ALS is of quiet apprehension. The Airmen are nervous and are getting a feel for each other, according to Tech. Sgt. Dannielle Lewis, ALS instructor.
"They are just treading lightly on the waters the first couple of days," said Lewis.
The most senior ranking student is assigned the title of "class commander" and he or she takes on the responsibility of being the first stop in the chain of command for all of the flights.
"My goal is for the class to get a 100 percent pass rate," said Senior Airman Shawn Uderitz, 592nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground mechanic and current class commander.
The 192-hour course, over 24 academic days, is divided into four major areas that support the course objectives of professional Airman, supervisory communicator, expeditionary Airman, and supervisor of Airmen.
"One of the most important things we teach is communication," said Elerson. "Communication is the place where most things break down and a lot of gray areas can exist, because it's not clear or concise, so being able to set those standards and uphold people to those standards is important."
Every student is evaluated on their performance of public speaking among many other ALS lessons. The goal is not just speaking in front of people, but to present a convincing briefing in the correct structure within the time limit.
"In my career field we do a lot of public speaking, so my biggest challenge was to cut the speech down to three minutes," said Senior Airman Brooke Borges, 96th Force Support Squadron.
The instructors also teach key subjects such as team leader, leader influence, Airmanship, nuclear enterprise, joint organization, joint warfighter, and introduction to negotiator.
"ALS is going to help continue to mold them and take away any negative ideas they may have had about the Air Force," said Black, a seven-year veteran. "I enjoy giving the students those 'aha' moments."
One year ago, Black decided to become an instructor because she felt she could positively influence Airmen.
"I felt I could motivate people to want to lead and lead in the correct way. I wanted to show them that even though they may experience bad leadership, they don't have to lead like that," said Black, an ALS graduate of four years.
ALS is a place for Airmen to gain a better understanding of what it means to be an Airman in the Air Force, according to Tech. Sgt. Shernel Alexander, ALS instructor.
"I think how the students view each other is what causes them to renew their sense of pride," said Alexander. "They begin to realize the importance of networking and how they impact the overall mission."
Students also learn through inspections how attention to detail affects the overall mission.
Once a week, in front of the ALS building, the instructors inspect the students in a specific uniform and the discrepancies are recorded. The students are given until the end of the duty day to fix those discrepancies.
"The blues inspection was a little fearful at first," said Senior Airman Joshua Jimenez, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We didn't know what to expect, so we all came in an hour and a half early to look over each other's uniform. We came to inspection ready and motivated knowing everyone's ribbons were in line and occupational badges were set."
The Airmen also work toward honor graduate awards. The most prestigious is the John L. Levitow Award. This award is given to the Airman who excels both academically and as a leader during the course.
"Sometimes it can be hard to decide if the students are genuinely acting as leaders or if it's due to the competiveness of the John L. Levitow Award," said Lewis. "But either way, they are influencing the other students by speaking out in class, volunteering, and helping their classmates."
Another requirement at ALS is physical fitness three times a week. Physical training leaders provide the workout and everyone performs them individually. However, one time per class the instructors lead the joint warfighter activity, which is an actual lesson and workout. This exercise is similar to the "Amazing Race" and consists of 10 questions. Each flight must answer questions as a group and perform various PT exercises the instructors choose to incorporate. The first flight to complete the race as a team, wins.
"This exercise is definitely a team effort," said Borges. "We can't leave anyone behind if we want our next clue. This teaches us we need to be a team and work together."
The first-week, quiet apprehension is long gone as the students close in on graduation. The atmosphere is livelier and much more relaxed.
"They are excited and ready to be free," said Lewis. "They are ready to become supervisors. They have learned a lot of new skills and they are ready to use those skills as leaders for their future Airmen."
Graduation is a formal ceremony consisting of roughly 200 guests. Base leadership along with student commanders, first sergeants, supervisors, families and friends attend the graduation. The ceremony is followed by a formal dinner at the Bayview club.
After graduation, the students return to their workplace and assume their role as leaders and supervisors in the Air Force.
"ALS is a great experience. It has taught me valuable lessons in leadership and what a true team feels like," said Master Sgt. Melanie Collins, ALS commandant. "To work in an environment where everyone has your back is an amazing feeling. It's great to see students emulate the concepts we teach."