The Air Force’s reforms to how it educates its enlisted airmen will continue throughout 2018.
The new program, called Enlisted Professional Military Education for the 21st Century, or EPME 21, was unveiled in July. Under EPME 21, the Air Force is rolling out a new requirement for “professional development units” designed to “capture diverse education, training and life experiences.”
Airmen will have to complete 24 one-hour professional development units, or PDUs, each year, such as college classes, professional certifications, planning and participating in Air Force, joint and coalition exercises, and deploying and leading teams in combatant command areas of responsibility.
“In the next year and a half, we’ll transition into the true EPME 21 model, where the distance learning portion, as we know it, will kind of transition into the professional development units, which ... allows [airmen] to receive credit for many of the things that they’re already doing,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said in August.
The Air Force has already made Airman Leadership School, the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, and the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy 100 percent in-residence, to give all airmen a chance to attend before they are promoted. Previously, some airmen who fell out of specific time-in-service windows would not be allowed to attend those academies after taking the NCO or SNCO distance learning programs. Those requirements are now dropped and, for example, airmen are no longer barred from attending the SNCO academy if they have more than 18 years of service.
The Air Force has also eliminated time-in-service milestones for distance learning eligibility, so airmen now complete their distance learning programs as a prerequisite to attending the NCO or SNCO in-residence academies. They also are no longer told they’re eligible for distance learning at specific time-in-service milestones, even if that doesn’t make sense for them.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.