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NEWS | June 20, 2014

Total force approach in North Dakota aims to enhance leadership training for future NCOs

By Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp 119th Wing

FARGO, N.D. - The 119th Wing training office is blazing a trail in conjunction with the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Airman Leadership School at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, by hosting an Airman Leadership School in-residence class at the North Dakota Air National Guard Base in Fargo, North Dakota.

The ALS course is being taught by Air Force active-duty instructors to Air National Guard students in Fargo simultaneously with active-duty students at the Etchberger ALS during a five-week class culminating with the students coming together for a formal graduation ceremony at Grand Forks AFB.

The course is designed to prepare junior enlisted members for leadership roles as they become non-commissioned officers.

According to the course handout, lessons are divided into five units of instruction providing students the knowledge, understanding, and skills necessary to succeed as supervisors in the military environment. It covers things such as military standards and responsibilities, Air Force history, communication principles, management practices, writing and speaking skills and various leadership techniques.

"We give them tools to deal with arising situations involving other Airmen. We try to set them up for success," says Tech. Sgt. James Richey, an active-duty instructor from the Etchberger ALS.

Air National Guard members throughout the country have the option of doing the course-work through distance-learning programs without attending any actual class-room studies, but attending the classroom course allows them to interact with an instructor and other students as they practice applying what they read in the text.

The hands-on application of the classroom material gives the students a realistic experience to draw from when they encounter situations while on duty later in their careers, and the instructors can share experiences they have had in similar situations.

Non-commissioned officers who become ALS instructors are trained for the duty in addition to their Air Force specialty at six-week schools such as the one Richey attended at Maxwell-Gunter Annex AFB, Alabama.

"When I talked to the training people at the National Guard Bureau, they said they have not heard of another Air National Guard base doing it this way," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Miller, the 119th Wing non-commissioned officer in charge of training.

"I believe we develop better leaders for our unit by having the Airmen attend an ALS class rather than by doing the training through correspondence because it gives the Airmen an opportunity to benefit from the interaction with an instructor and their peers in the classroom - and it is a great opportunity to be able to do that at our home station," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Miller, the 119th Wing non-commissioned officer in charge of training.

"It doesn't fit into every the life circumstances for every Guard member, but it is beneficial for those who can do it in the classroom," adds Miller.

The students apply their instruction through interactive course activities involving realistic scenarios addressing issues such as suicide prevention, substance abuse, stress management, sexual assault prevention and response, and identifying concerns in their fellow Airmen so they can help them find support from the right organization.

"It is crazy how much you can learn in this class and to become a better military member and also take things back to make you better in your civilian job." Says Senior Airman Tyrell Martin, of the 119th Operations Support Squadron, who is also a business manager for Titan Machinery in Wishek, North Dakota. "I hear about things going on with friends in their civilian jobs and think, you should be taking these classes - but they can't," he adds.

The concept of having one active-duty instructor travel to the Air National Guard Base in Fargo to teach a course rather than having several Air National Guard Airmen travel to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and stay there to attend the course arose from discussions between Miller and the Etchberger ALS commandant, Master Sgt. Aaron Holmes.

The benefits became apparent to the pair of senior NCOs as they discussed the financial savings for the U.S. government as well as the job satisfaction of contributing to the improvement of leadership training for the Air National Guard members and the total force concept.

"Doing the course this way is going very well and we are looking at doing it once or twice each year here (Fargo), as well as the possibility of doing it in other places," said Holmes.

"I find it very rewarding when Airmen tell me, no kidding, how the lessons from the course have been applied in their Air Force careers, and they are actually using the lessons being taught," Holmes said.