Sister Service Academies a Great Option for PME

Cannon AFB, N.M. -- During my 27 years in the Air Force, I have served in all three components - active duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard. I attended Airman Leadership School (then called Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory Course) in 1985 and the NCO Academy in 1995. When it came time to attend Senior NCO Professional Military Education (PME), I wanted to break from tradition by attending a sister service academy. I knew how the Air Force approached leadership; I wanted to get outside my comfort zone to find out how my peers in other services dealt with the same issues. I decided on and applied to attend the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy - NAVSEA. I chose this path to see how the Navy approaches leadership.

Then life happened. A motorcycle accident on Easter Sunday not only almost ended my life, but it nearly put an end to my hopes of attending NAVSEA because sister service academies do not allow physical profiles for other service attendees. Besides, I did not want to attend on a profile. To experience the full measure of my time in the Navy, I needed to be 100 percent physically and mentally prepared to walk and run, lock step, with the Navy's finest enlisted leaders. That realization became the drum beat throughout my recovery of physical and occupational therapy. I received a clean bill of health only two weeks before the start of class.

I saw how the Navy LIVES teamwork. Class 154 had 69 students from nearly every service, only the Army was without representation. There were four Airmen, five Marines, and one Coast Guardsman. We had five international students representing Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, and two from South Africa. The class was divided into six groups named by color: Blue, Gold, Green, Grey, Khaki, and White. My group of 11 was the Gold Group. Our faculty advisors were also joint service. We had an Army sergeant major and a Navy aviation boatswain master chief for advisors. We had one each, Marine first sergeant, AF senior master sergeant, and a Turkish senior chief. The rest were a collection of chiefs, senior chiefs, and master chiefs. From day one, we worked as a cohesive team to ensure everyone maximized their training and peaked their skills. Our motto was "We Succeed as a Group!"

Our curriculum and schedule were, to say the least, robust. The three core subjects of any enlisted professional military education are management, leadership, and the profession of arms. NAVSEA was no exception. We studied resource allocation and country profiles. We had in-class interactive scenarios about leadership, management, and supervision. We learned about national strategy and service strategy, and, of course, we attended lectures.

Time management was critical. We were either studying for or taking a quiz or test. We had daily preparations for the next day's lessons and during the seven weeks, we took four quizzes and two tests, wrote four essays, and gave four speeches. We spent many evenings studying as a group and separately to meet suspense dates. Additionally, we reviewed each other's work to provide constructive feedback and ensure each one of us provided the best possible output. This was core to the teamwork we shared during the course. All of us were keenly involved in the success of the group.

We kept up with our studies during an extended trip. For three days at the Naval Recruit Training Center at Naval Training Center Great Lakes in Chicago, we spent time observing and talking with the Navy's future Sailors. We visited one of their technical schools, an A-school, and toured their state-of-the-art firefighter and damage control training facility. We were invited to observe a ball-capping ceremony, the point at which a recruit becomes a Sailor, and attended a graduation ceremony with our class seated on the reviewing platform. Despite the busy schedule, we still had to keep up on our studies and writing. I vividly remember writing a country brief on the berthing deck at night, and editing a speech at the O'Hare Airport Admiral's Club while waiting for our flight back to Boston.

Physical training was outstanding! Three mornings a week we either did walking or running circuit training inside or outside, or ran to a statue called the Wave and back - a 6.6 mile trek thru the Naval War College and downtown Newport. A testament to the camaraderie of Gold Group, we traditionally had the most finishers of the Wave run every week, and all of our Gold Shipmates ran the Wave at least once during the course. No other group could boast that!

More important than the knowledge I gained was the experience I lived. I spent seven weeks with some of the best people I have known in my career. From day one, we were all on a level field with one goal in mind - to succeed and prevail as a team.

My shipmates discovered I would be sewing on senior while at the academy. When the class visited the USS CONSTITUTION in Boston Harbor, Gold Group arranged for a promotion ceremony aboard the fantail of Old Ironsides herself! Our group leader read the senior non-commissioned officer charge with my shipmates looking on, grinning.

We stayed the course together through the torrent of quizzes, tests, homework, speeches, and papers. We worked together to ensure each shipmate produced the best possible product. We let off steam and helped each other. When I completed the 6.6 mile Wave Run for the first time, it is difficult to explain the euphoria I felt when my shipmates cheered me on. They knew that only 4 months prior I was lying on an emergency room gurney wondering if I would ever walk, let alone run again.

My shipmates accepted me for who I was and allowed me to reach incredible levels of achievement. The final paper we wrote was on military heritage, how heritage evolved into modern practices. This paper would also be the impetus for our last speech and was the foundation for the Heritage Award presented to the best communicator in the class. Each group chose one member to represent them for the award. I was inspired when the group picked me to compete for the Heritage Award based on my paper "Tragedy Aboard USS FORRESTAL," an Airman giving a speech on Navy heritage, and they appreciated it.

The final testament to the bond we formed over the weeks was the Gold Group vote on their representative for the prestigious Chief Water Tender Peter Tomich Award. The nominee would meet a board to determine the Leadership Award winner. Any one of Gold Group's shipmates was worthy of the nomination, but they chose me to represent our group for the award - what a truly humbling experience.

Information on how to attend a sister service academy is available through the Delta Team at AFPC, delta.fto@randolph.af.mil. My experience was a positive transformation of an old Airman. I stepped out of my comfort zone to experience what has become one of the top three experiences in my career. I had a paradigm shift and saw what our joint partners bring to the fight. I shared with teammates who wear other U.S. military uniforms and learned so much about how they protect our freedoms. I am a better Airmen for the experience and a more appreciate American. I thank my sister services for allowing me to walk a mile in their shoes.