FARGO, N.D. - The North Dakota National Guard’s 119th Wing training office is blazing new trails with the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Airman Leadership School at Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Forks, North Dakota, by hosting an Airman Leadership School (ALS) in-residence class at the Guard’s air base in Fargo.
The five-week course, designed to prepare junior enlisted members for leadership and supervisory roles as they become noncommissioned officers (NCOs), is taught by active duty Air Force instructors to Air National Guard students in Fargo simultaneously with active duty students at the Etchberger ALS. The course culminates with all of the students participating in a formal graduation ceremony at the Grand Forks AFB.
The concept of having an active duty instructor travel to the Air National Guard Base to teach a course rather than having several Air National Guard Airmen travel to Grand Forks to attend the course arose from discussions between Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Miller, the 119th Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of training, and Master Sgt. Aaron Holmes, the commandant of the Etchberger ALS.
“When I talked to the training people at the National Guard Bureau, they told me that this was the first time they've seen an Air National Guard unit bring the instructors to their base for ALS,” said Miller.
The benefits of fewer individuals traveling became apparent to the 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 while emphasizing the concept of active duty interaction.
According to the course description, 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 like military standards and responsibilities, Air Force history, communication principles, management practices, writing and speaking skills, and various leadership techniques.
“We try to set them up for success by giving them tools to deal with situations involving their fellow Airmen,” says Tech. Sgt. James Richey, an active duty instructor from the Etchberger ALS.
Air National Guard members throughout the country have the option of participating in the course through distance-learning programs without attending any actual class-room studies. However, attending the classroom version of the course allows them to interact in person with an instructor and other students as they practice applying lessons and concepts presented during the course. The hands-on application of the classroom material gives the students realistic experiences to draw from when they encounter situations later in their careers, and the instructors can share experiences and offer advice from their similar situations.
NCOs who become ALS instructors are trained for the special duty in addition to their Air Force specialty.
“I believe we develop better leaders for our unit when the Airmen attend an ALS class in person rather than online because it gives the Airmen an opportunity to benefit from the interaction with an instructor and their peers in the classroom,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Miller, the 119th Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of training. “And it is a great opportunity to be able to do that at our home station.”
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 of their fellow Airmen, so they can help them find appropriate support from the right organization.
“It is impressive how much you can learn in this class to become a better military member and the lessons also helps you 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.
“Providing this inaugural in-residence course here in Fargo is going very well and we are looking at continuing it in future, as well as keeping watch for opportunities to offer it in other locations,” said Holmes. “I find it very rewarding when Airmen tell me that they were able to apply the material from the course to their real-life situations in their Air Force careers.”