Roughly 2,300 airmen are now having to take the Air Force's senior noncommissioned officer distance learning course almost immediately after finishing their previous NCO distance learning course.

Typically, airmen don't have to start the SNCO course until several years after they finish the NCO course. But due to a shift to a new model of distance learning courses, about 2,300 airmen are having to take their courses virtually back-to-back — some returning to another round of distance learning as little as a month after finishing their first course.

Senior Master Sgt. Lee Hoover, spokesman for Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody, said in an email that the number will decline as the transition continues and more airmen finish the course. When the transition is completed, Hoover said, airmen will only take distance learning courses after they have been in the Air Force for seven years and for 12 years, giving them a five-year break in-between.

Hoover said commanders can request an extension of the deadline if having their airmen take back-to-back courses would hurt mission readiness, or if the airmen have extenuating circumstances in their lives.

The Air Force last year launched the latest version of the NCO course, called Course 15, following the launch of the SNCO version — originally called Course 14, Version 6 — in 2014. Hoover said that the Air Force enrolled airmen into Course 15

"We did that to ensure airmen who would later attend the in-resident portion had completed distance learning, which is a requirement," Hoover said. "The in-resident portions build on what airmen learn in the distance learning course. It's not duplicative, so it's critical we provide the base-level knowledge needed for the in-resident portions."

Hoover said that this year, the Air Force is only enrolling airmen in Course 15 and the SNCO Academy distance learning course if they meet the required time-in-service — at least seven years for Course 15, and 12 years for the SNCO course. That means, an airman who finished the NCO Course 15 program last year with 11 years time-in-service, and then hit the 12-year mark shortly thereafter, would soon be enrolled in the SNCO course.

Over time, as more airmen take Course 15 closer to their seven years time-in-service, this will be less of a problem, he said.

But the compressed timetable has some airmen and observers grumbling, and saying it places too much of a burden on airmen and prevents them from getting their job done.

"Nothing like 1,000 hours of coerced distance learning at the same moment [the Chief of Staff] is acknowledging the need to reduce the burden of obligation placed on our NCOs," former Air Force officer Tony Carr said in a July 22 post on the Facebook page of his John Q. Public blog.

Carr's comments came after another former airman, Steven Mayne, asked Cody on Facebook how the back-to-back distance learning requirements for some staff and technical sergeants might affect mission and readiness.

"We certainly don't intend for airmen, regardless of rank, to take one [distance learning] course immediately following another," Cody said. "Once we move completely through this transition period that will never be the case. ... We're not inclined to waive the requirement because we want to give them every opportunity to attend an in-residence course in their career, and if they don't complete the [distance learning] they are ineligible for in-residence."

Stephen Losey covers personnel, promotions, and the Air Force Academy for Air Force Times. He can be reached at slosey@airforcetimes.com.