Laying the foundation for future AF, Coast Guard enlisted leaders

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Airman Leadership School is charged with laying the foundation for junior enlisted Airmen who will soon supervise other Airmen. At Hanscom Air Force Base that mission extends beyond active duty to the Guard and Reserve, and beyond that to the Coast Guard. 

ALS, also known as professional military education, can at times be a lesson in total force because each class includes six active duty Airmen and two each from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard - all located throughout the six-state New England and New York region.

"In each class we provide the students a diverse learning experience, which really adds a unique dimension to the already established curriculum," said Master Sgt. Jocelyn Foo, ALS commandant, who was selected for that position earlier this summer as part of the developmental special duty program.

The diversity allows students to not only learn from each other in separate Air Force career fields, but learn about the other branches of service and how they do business, she added.

The curriculum focuses on developing leadership abilities and effective communication. Much of the instruction focuses around various Air Force rules and regulations.

"Our goal as Airman Leadership School instructors is to prepare senior airmen with leadership and supervisory skills for those who have been recently selected for staff sergeant but have not pinned on yet," said Foo.

Those skills that better prepared one recent ALS graduate when he returned to his duty section.

"I was recently pinned as petty officer second class and found that I was very well prepared to take on the role of an E-5," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas C. Distefano, U.S. Coast Guard Station New Haven, Connecticut.

Distefano was awarded the John L. Levitow Award at the school's last graduation. This award is the highest honor given to an Air Force enlisted PME student.

The "Coastie" credits his success during the five-week course to the instructors.

"Airman Leadership School was one of the greatest learning experiences I have had in my military career," he said. "Right away, the instructors challenged the students to achieve more than they thought possible as leaders."

Staff Sgt. Ashley Lerke, the longest tenured ALS instructor at Hanscom, credits the instructors' commitment to each class as the sole reason.

"I stress to students from day one, 'this is no longer just about you and your career,'" she said. "Once they graduate and begin to supervise, they will have subordinates with personal and professional problems that demand their attention in order to ensure the mission is accomplished."

One technique the instructors use to stress this point is with assigned homework. Each student is required to have three signatures with every homework assignment.

"I tell them, 'You might not think it's important, but if you're signing off on it and they fail, that's a failure on you as well because you passed,'" Lerke said. "'How does that look on you as a leader?'"

Foo credits that type of philosophy to the school's recent success. The school was selected last year as the Best Small Airman Leadership School in Air Force Materiel Command.

"We try and instill teamwork within our students from the very first day of class," Foo said. "They are not going about this solo; the students need to come together as a team. That's how they are going to make it through this journey."

The Hanscom-based school has had every enrolled student graduate since 2010, something Foo credits to her predecessors, as well as current and former instructors.

In addition to Foo and Lerke, the school's third instructor is Staff Sgt. Alesha James.

Airman Leadership School Class 16 Alpha started earlier this week.

"Having the opportunity to mentor, train, teach and develop Airmen is such a big thing for me," said Foo. "I believe in passing what we've learned throughout our careers to those that are just beginning their careers."

Each of Hanscom's ALS instructors appreciates that working in the PME environment provides them the opportunity to leave an impact on a generation of enlisted leaders.