News: Bulgarian students among latest Air Force EPME graduates
Story by Master Sgt. Michael Smith
MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. - The Paul H. Lankford EPME Center, a division of The I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, graduated its first Bulgarian students in a ceremony attended by Tennessee National Guard senior leaders and international guests.
Two Bulgarian air force members completed leadership education here through the Tennessee National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
Officials credited the efforts between the Lankford EPME Center and the office of the Secretary of the Air Force (International Affairs), and State Partnership Program officers from Joint Forces Headquarters, Tennessee National Guard to invite the first students in what officials from both countries hope will be a sustained effort.
“The TEC’s host wing, the 134th Air Refueling Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, played a key role in making this a success,” said Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch, commandant of the Lankford EPME Center.
Sgt. Yordanka S. Petrova-Angelova attended six weeks of Noncommissioned Officer Academy and Cpl. Stoyko V. Stoykov attended five weeks of Airman Leadership School.
“If I had the chance, I would do this again,” said Stoykov. “Those things we learn here are not just written words, but things that are beneficial to our lives.”
The two Bulgarian students graduated with 334 U.S. service members from across the Air Force, the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve Command, and the Coast Guard. The Defense Attache, Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria, Brig. Gen. Stefan Yanev, attended the ceremony.
Stoykov was thankful to both militaries for allowing him the opportunity to attend the training and represent his country.
The partnership between Tennessee and Bulgaria began more than 20 years ago. Governors and adjutants general in all 54 states and territories use their National Guards to build relationships in various corners of the world through the program.
“It started with a handshake and hopefully it will not end for a very long time,” said Army Maj. Gen. Terry Haston, Tennessee’s adjutant general, who has traveled to Bulgaria more than two dozen times.
The Lankford EPME Center holds the largest volume of enlisted professional military education in the U.S. Air Force. Thousands of service members - including those from Canada - arrive on the campus annually to study and practice Air Force heritage, leadership, management and communication skills.
“It’s really good that they got to come here, because they got to start at the top,” said Haston. “I know the quality that this academy provides.”
Featured speaker, Chief Master Sgt. Ronald C. Anderson, command chief master sergeant, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, and 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern), Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., challenged the graduates to think about their future goals and make a conscious decision on leadership: “Are you in [to be a leader] or are you out?” he asked.
“When I see you again, I’ll know the decision that you make … we will all know,” said Anderson. “Congratulations.”
Haston presented the John L. Levitow Award - the highest award bestowed for all Air Force enlisted professional military education - to Tech. Sgt. Vincent Girolami from Nevada and Senior Airman Nicholas Lawlor from Montana.
Felch presented the Commandant’s Award to Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s Tech. Sgt. Jose Almeida from New Jersey and Airman Leadership School’s Staff Sgt. Chad Cosgrove from Vermont.
Academic achievement awardees were NCOA’s Tech. Sgt. Sara Klobucar from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and ALS’s Senior Airman Jason Stark from Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y. The combined classes had 33 Distinguished Graduates.
“Three hundred and thirty-six of you have worked together for many goals, for many weeks,” said Felch. “Your day has arrived. Be proud. We are proud of you.”