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ANG Enlisted Force: Ready or not for 2025

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Joseph E. Thornell Sr.
  • AFNORTH Command Chief
At the December 2010 Air National Guard Senior Leadership conference, the theme was, "2025: Are We Ready?" The conference topics and speakers focused on what will be coming at the Air National Guard in the approaching 15 years.

For the enlisted force of the Air National Guard, being ready for 2025 requires deliberate actions today. All enlisted Airmen in the Total Force who wear the U.S. Air Force nametape on their uniforms must be professionally prepared in very similar fashion.

The Air National Guard enlisted force has always been technically prepared to stand alongside their Total Force brethren; our maintenance and operations successes over our distinguished history clearly identify that.

Our professional preparation as Airmen is a slightly different story, however. Two key components of professional preparation are enlisted professional military education and personal education. Due to budget allocations and prioritization of resources, we have accepted and excelled in professional military education by using distributed learning programs for roughly 90 percent of our force, while the remaining 10 percent were educated using in-residence programs alongside their Total Force teammates.

Looking forward, it is clear that our Total Force will require our members to be prepared using a different mix. As we instill the deliberate development mind set for creating our leaders for the 2025 ANG, we must start now with specific policy adjustments and unit-level actions to assure our Airmen are ready. The easy road is to fall back to the well-exercised line of, 'We've always done it that way,' as we dig in our heels and hold our unit to the good old days while the Total Force pushes past. The easy road in the 21st century Total Force is not as crowded as before, and this past-focused mind set will likely ensure those units find an early off-ramp.

We must engage deliberate development head-on at the unit level with specific and direct connectivity to the national intent of the National Guard Bureau, which continues to diligently work with our Air Force for increased development opportunities for our Airmen.

Our unit-level efforts must be aimed at crafting a local and deliberate method to identify the Airmen who will lead the organizations forward. The method must include a mix of technician members, active Guard Reserve and drill status Guardsmen, and be cognizant of diversity, required and expected skill sets and professional preparation.

From this method will come deliberate steps to be followed and experiences to attain to assure the unit is well-lead, and a pool of candidates will naturally evolve who are ready and postured on the bench for service at the national level for both AF and ANG leadership positions.

Yes, the ANG of 2025 will need us serving where qualified and needed regardless of service component affiliation.

Tough calls are required for the ANG of 2025 both at the national level and the unit level. Air National Guard leadership -- Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Muncy -- are making those calls now with policy, mission and force structure adjustments to ensure we are ready. They are supported by adjutants general and field level councils, the Enlisted Field Advisory Council and the Air Directorate Field Advisory Council, to deliver the news, implement the actions and provide much-valued, field-level feedback.

The unit-level tough calls must be made to complete this process. The days of leadership positions being occupied by a majority of one type of member, or from one enduring family name, or principally from one Air Force specialty must change. The prevalent PME culture at the unit must adjust to ensure those who will lead have experienced both distributed learning and in-residence experiences so they have the relationships and knowledge to succeed at unit, state and national positions.

All of this hinges on two things we have resisted for too long in our ANG: a performance feedback program and an associate's degree from the Community College of the Air Force. These are the connective tissues required to make deliberate development occur and ensure we are ready when called to serve in any Total Force position.

Enlisted performance feedback is an honest and documented discussion of what an Airman desires, what a unit expects, and what both will do to make that happen for mission and personal success. Our Airmen deserve to know what possibilities exist in their unit and in their ANG and how they are performing their present duties to include the professional expectations of Air Force Instruction 36-2618, Enlisted Force Structure.

Whether we like it or not, our AF chooses to use the enlisted performance report program for this. I envision the ANG use of the EPR feedback program being much more effective as it will not be coupled with our promotions, which are unit-vacancy filled instead of promotion-tested and point-totals focused. This singular, subtle difference will allow for honest feedback clearly discussing the good and not-so-good of an Airman's performance, while realistically detailing the future possibilities available if present performance and professional growth remain constant.

Finding the allotted time for this face-to-face exchange during a unit training assembly was the heartburn that killed the initial enlisted feedback effort of 2004. It is extremely difficult in the 21st century ANG to tell our great Guardsmen, 'I do not value you enough to give you quality performance feedback because we cannot find one hour per Airman per year.' Every ANG Airman deserves documented feedback and they deserve it now.

Our ANG Airmen are well prepared and educated for service in our Total Force. Our community connection and civilian employment requires a level of education typically at the bachelors level or higher. Our Air Force has the CCAF that is the enlisted Airman's college. It offers regionally-accredited degrees based upon an Airman's specialty and is easy to attain through our mandatory career-spanning Air Force training and education events. Presently, we do not reflect an earnest regard for this enlisted-focused program with 14.2 percent (13,164 of 92,537) of our enlisted force identified as graduates.

If the largest part of our force requires a bachelor's degree or higher for their civilian occupations, why don't Airmen have their CCAF degree to support their military occupation? The reason is simply painful: the CCAF degree is not required for promotion or for extended service. Many ANG Airmen would simply need to get an official transcript from their civilian education institution and submit it to CCAF. Once submitted and evaluated, Airmen would find they primarily need an oral communications class and perhaps college algebra to graduate.

With no requirement to complete CCAF, this described process will not occur. The USAF instituted a CCAF requirement for senior rater endorsement in 2006 for those Airmen planning to attain the grade of senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant in their career. It has been powerfully successful with recent promotion statistics showing 100 percent of the 2011 selections for chief and 99.9 percent of the 2010 selections for senior having the degree. In the ANG, our presently serving seniors and chiefs have a 29 and 29.2 percent degree completion rate respectfully. Now is the time for the ANG to require a CCAF degree for promotion to E-8 and E-9.

The year 2025 seems a long way down the road. It is especially difficult to see when we are immersed in continuous change, reduced resource challenges and a prolonged, increased operations tempo. If we do not maintain a focus on what the ANG will be in 2025, when we get there, we will not be what is needed for this great service and great nation.

We can adjust the professional development of our Airmen now and be ready for the increased opportunities in 2025. It requires national and unit-level connection, communication and compliance.

Having served in our great USAF and ANG for 34 years, in all statuses, and in exciting unit, state and national positions, I have the benefit of seeing professional development a little clearer than some.

Our ANG Airmen are unbelievably resilient and successful; they shine in all they do. They want to serve and lead our Total Force with success and distinction in a multitude of ways. It is time to get our deliberate development moving toward 2025 so our Airmen can serve our nation as they desire; quality performance feedback and the CCAF degree are the first two stepping stones on that path.