MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. - Graduating students of U.S. Air Force Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy took hold of diplomas here May 23 as loud applause approved their ability to bring new leadership to the field.
What they learned would certainly steer the service's future, officials said.
"The one thing that you can do for us is to care about your airmen," said Chief Master Sgt. Richard A. "Andy" Kaiser, command chief of Air Mobility Command. "The missions that we do are done by our enlisted airmen."
The featured graduation speaker, Kaiser congratulated the students and spoke of the hard path they took to graduate and will take as leaders.
"We as airmen, we as leaders have got to always, always choose to do the harder right thing over the easier wrong thing," Kaiser advised.
The in-residence students began their hard path to graduation at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus.
The students prepared for leadership roles through presentations, inspections, peer discussions and physical fitness training, among many lessons instructed by the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center.
With each passing experience, those with top scores rose as academic achievers, including NCO Academy's Tech. Sgt. Bryan Murphy from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and ALS's Senior Airman Victor Popescu from Ohio. Both earned academic achievement awards.
By the class's remaining days, more than a dozen had also excelled as distinguished graduates, still others as top graduates.
Chief Master Sgt. Donald Felch, Lankford Center's commandant, and retired Chief Master Sgt. Art Hafner, its 9th commandant, presented the Commandant's Award to Tech. Sgt. Kevin Watson from Horsham Air National Guard Station, Pa., and Senior Airman Todd Rodan from Dover AFB, Del.
"I had a wonderful flight, we studied together and participated in numerous community projects including 5K runs and food drives," said Watson, a firefighter and former Marine who now recruits for his Pennsylvania unit.
Having transferred to the Air National Guard in 2006, Watson said the NCO Academy provided him the Air Force knowledge he needed to develop Airmen and help them reach their goals.
"... and the goals of my organization, as well," he said.
The John L. Levitow Award, the highest award bestowed for any Air Force enlisted PME, was earned by Master Sgt. Jason Beard from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., and Senior Airman Bradley Stoudt from Kansas.
"I'm enjoying it," said Beard, a class leader who works as an active duty maintenance manager back at the 4th Fighter Wing.
"It was really nice to branch out and meet people from the Guard and reserve who do different missions," he said.
Officials noted that the in-residence graduates who arrived six weeks ago added to the Lankford Center's record student-load of satellite NCO Academy distance learners followed by additional distance learners taking satellite ALS on their weekends.
At one point, 597 future enlisted leaders trained together through the Air National Guard's school house, which manages the largest NCO Academy in the Air Force. The sum was a record group of EPME students ever instructed simultaneously.