Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Noel attends class with Marines at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., as part of Enlisted Professional Military Education-Next. The Air Force is changing the process that lets senior noncommissioned officers attend courses run by other military branches. (Senior Airman Christina Brownlow / Air Force)
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It's getting tougher for senior noncommissioned officers to secure slots at the enlisted schools of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Gone are the days of getting into enlisted professional military schools — such as the Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas; the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy at Newport, R.I.; the Marine Corps Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy Advanced Course at multiple locations; and the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Academy at Petaluma, Calif. — just by being among the first to apply.
Now, master sergeants, senior master sergeants and chief master sergeants must be nominated by their units, approved by their major commands, selected by a board and, finally, confirmed by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
The first board met Oct. 10 to select 60 to 70 airmen for slots — about the same number as in the past couple years, said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Horn, chief of Air Force Enlisted Developmental Education. The results from that board will be released in the coming weeks, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.
The tough new standards also might expand to other EPME opportunities, Horn said.
"While this year's board was referred to as the ‘Sister Service EPME Selection Board,' it may very well transform to the ‘Enlisted Developmental Education Selection Board' in the near future," he said. "We hope to expand this board process to include additional opportunities outside sister-service EPME, such as joint and international schools."
Details for the next board have not been announced, but airmen should anticipate that next year's board will operate under this new process, Horn said.
The new selection rules will apply a more deliberate consideration of how such training will enhance the development of the senior NCOs and how the service benefits from training the airmen selected, Horn said.
"For years, our process has been first-come, first-served," Horn said. "If an eligible senior NCO was interested in attending another service's PME, [the individual] would simply submit a letter to the Air Force Personnel Center. If they were first in line, they went."
Horn said the service sent good airmen to sister-service schools under the old system, but instituting the board and leader approvals ensures that the airmen are qualified and demonstrates that the service values the opportunity to send its best airmen to these schools.
"Airmen can request to be nominated, and senior leaders may mentor others who may not have considered such an experience to submit a nomination package," he said.
To be eligible to apply for a slot, senior NCOs must meet the individual school's criteria. They also must have a current PT record with the most recent test score being at least 80 and at least a passing score on the last three tests, Harper said.
The senior NCOs must also show a connection between attending a specific school and their current or projected duty assignment, and how the training might improve their standing on the selection board.
Attending a sister-service school is not mandatory for senior NCOs, but it is viewed favorably come promotion time, Harper said.
"Any opportunity where airmen are competitively selected amongst their peers can only benefit their careers," Harper said.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy said that airmen who attend sister-service EPME opportunities gain critical perspective that is valuable in the joint war-fighting environment. Roy announced in September that the service would be overhauling EPME over the next three years to get airmen to leadership school earlier in their careers and to make courses more relevant to the types of skills that airmen need, including being able to communicate, think strategically and work cooperatively in a joint environment.
"We're operating more and more in the joint environment so it makes sense to train and educate that way," Roy said in a release. "This helps us understand our joint partners better."