Air Force’s enlisted education revamp means more classroom time, new curriculum
Stars and Stripes September 22, 2023
Enlisted airmen will be hitting the books harder and sooner for professional studies as a result of a wide-ranging overhaul of the Air Force’s education program.
In a letter to members of the service Monday, outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass announced the introduction of the enlisted airmanship continuum plan.
While details are still limited, the plan indicates more classroom time and training earlier in airmen’s careers. It calls for redesigned foundations courses that will serve as prerequisites for the in-house leadership academies.
The curriculum is still under development, but beginning as early as October, these courses will replace the existing professional enhancement seminars and will be conducted at the base level, allowing airmen to avoid having to travel to school.
“Today’s airmen learn faster, and these new courses will match that pace, as they are designed to be four to five days in length,” said Col. Damian Schlussel, commander of the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala.
Similar to college courses that build on prerequisites, the incremental courses go from the 100 level starting at basic training to the 900 level, approximately paralleling airmen’s rise through the enlisted pay grades, from E-1 to E-9.
Unlike their predecessors, which often relied on volunteer briefers, the courses will be taught by trained instructors following a curriculum designed in large part at Air University.
Many building blocks of the training remain the same, but the timeline will shift slightly, according to the Air Force statement outlining the changes.
Basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland still lays the foundation for all enlisted airmen as Airmanship 100. After graduation, airmen then attend job-specific technical training schools.
Likewise, the familiar Airman Leadership School, Noncommissioned Officer and Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academies all remain in place as their timing shifts.
At their first permanent duty station, new airmen first attend the junior enlisted foundations course as part of the base’s own first term airman center curriculum.
Under the system in place for the past decade, those selected for promotion to the NCO corps attended Airman Leadership School before adding their staff sergeant stripe.
Under the new model, more airmen will attend the leadership school prior to an NCO promotion selection.
Before their promotion to staff sergeant, NCOs-to-be expand their supervisory skill sets during the foundations course, formerly known as the professional enhancement seminar.
This course will be required before troops are allowed to enroll in the NCO Academy, which they attend by the time they are technical sergeants.
Those seeking promotion to E-7 must complete the SNCO foundations course, which prepares them for the management-focused SNCO corps.
Master sergeants then complete the SNCO Academy before their promotion to E-8. Finally, the service’s most senior enlisted leaders still attend the Chiefs Leadership Academy.
To ensure a smooth rollout of the foundation courses, the service has reduced the number of NCOA students for fiscal year 2024 from 3,500 to 1,500 worldwide, Schlussel said.
“This will free up many of our NCOA instructors for mobile training teams, designed to help implement the foundation courses,” he said.
NCOA student levels are expected to return to normal in fiscal year 2025, he added.
Details on how these courses will be operated for reservists and guard airmen are still pending, the Air Force said in a background paper Monday outlining the changes.
Running parallel to these in-person training courses, the initiative also announced on-demand training available to airmen of all ranks online, slated for launch in late 2024, according the background paper.
Unlike mandatory online military education courses 14 and 15 in the past, which were largely decried by airmen for taking their personal time in addition to long duty hours, the materials are supposed to present helpful resources when needed.
Service leaders say they are embracing a different approach to better prepare enlisted airmen for a modern battlefield that prizes agility and cooperation across specialties, locations and commands. This week’s announcement follows several years of adjustments to the enlisted education program.