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Stepping Stones to Success: Education

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: this is the third in a series of articles that will provide young enlisted Airmen and supervisors with advice to help make their careers in the military a success.)

For Airmen education is a two pronged tool. To have a long and successful career education has to be pursued off and on duty because education is a cornerstone for success in all walks of life. That statement may appear to be a platitude, but phrases become platitudes after they stick in the consciousness and rhetoric of people for so long they become intuitive and, in the end, commonplace. Education has the ability of enabling its possessor to better themselves by hard work and dedication. Education is not elitist or prejudiced because its services are available to people regardless of race, gender, religious preferences or other proclivities. The only perquisites required to take advantage of education are personal effort, an open mind and a desire to learn.

Off-duty educational benefits for active-duty enlisted Airmen includes College Level Examination Program tests, tuition assistance toward college courses and six commissioning programs, said Tim Williford, the base's Community College of the Air Force advisor.

"Right now TA will pay for 100 percent of tuition, up to $250 per semester hour," said Williford. "TA has an annual fiscal-year cap of $4,500. It will pay for one civilian associate's degree, one bachelor's and one master's degree. This is for officers and enlisted. Enlisted members can obtain their CCAF at any time of their career."

TA is available to all active-duty military and is the optimal method of paying for college courses, said Melody Toney, the base's chief of education and training. Airmen can also receive $4,500 for a onetime license or certification in any program they want.

"The only requirement is the school must be regionally or nationally accredited," said Toney. "Also a person must be registered in a degree plan to use TA."

While taking college courses is a great way for Airmen to earn their CCAF and other degrees, people that feel like they don't have the time to sit in the classroom can take CLEP tests, said the CCAF advisor.

"Most schools accept CLEPs," said Williford. "It's a way to get some easy elective credits out of the way if it's something that you know already. You can take the test and get credit for it without having to take the class. We have a testing center right here for people to take CLEPs. Typically, people get results back in the same day."

These educational opportunities are extremely important for professional development, said Master Sgt. Shannon Wass, base career assistance advisor. Enlisted Airmen need to have a breadth of educational experience in order to be promotable when they are senior NCOs. This includes professional military education and a civilian education.

"Just do it and get it done," the career assistance advisor said. "The CCAF and course 14 are very easy ... everyone I talk to says it isn't that hard. These two things are critical in being able to get stratified on base as a senior NCO."

Senior Airman Fred Wilson, 19th Component Maintenance Squadron fuel system repair journeyman, understands the importance of on and off duty education.

"I've been taking classes online ... I've taken a few CLEPs as well," said Wilson. "They aren't directly related to my career field, but I know they'll go towards a CCAF in the long run."

While pursuing degrees through CLEP tests and college courses is a tool that he uses, the best educational tool in the Air Force is PME, said Wilson, who's currently in Airman Leadership School.

"I love PME ... I loved basic, I loved tech school, and I love ALS." said Wilson. "I love waking up early, marching, drilling, being responsible. I think the structure and discipline about PME makes things run better."

In addition to using PME to become a better professional, Wilson also said that education can mean the difference between being a good or being a mediocre Airmen.

"Education can mean the difference between a good leader and just a leader," said Wilson. "You may just be put into a position to be a leader, and you may not be ready if you don't have the education or tools to pull it off. Of course you can grow, but why not be ready before you're there? Learn your boss's job now and have that education, so that way you're pulling your weight when you get there and someone isn't pulling you. The worse you are, the worse the people below you are going to be."

Wilson said that having a mentor that taught him to pursue education, and make the most of his career, has helped him prepare himself better to be a leader.

"I learned from a mentor that you can either be an E-5 or you can be a staff sergeant," said Wilson, who is scheduled to graduate from ALS this month. "The difference is dedication or commitment."

In order to be a true leader, Airmen should take in education from every avenue possible, said Wilson.

"There are two different kinds of education," said Wilson. "There's the stuff you get in books and the stuff you learn from people. You need to take it all in ... if you're not ready, you're gonna make a chain effect below you."

Many Airmen, protégés and mentors, consider education a primary tool in success, regardless of where they are at in their career. The senior enlisted leader of the 19th Airlift Wing said it is perhaps the most important factor in determining success.

"Education is the key to almost anything, whether you decide to stay on active duty or you decide to move onto a civilian position," said Chief Master Sgt. James Morris, 19th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant. "Without a degree there is almost nowhere where you can go. If I had to give anybody any advice, it would be to seek advanced degrees and complete them. That's virtually the only way to success today."

Airmen interested in learning more about educational opportunities can attend an education fair 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 22, at the base education center. For more information call 987-3417.

Airmen seeking to enhance their professional knowledge can view the professional development guide online at The website offers the comprehensive text of the PDG as well as interactive study guides and games designed to make learning the curriculum more enjoyable. Games include "fill in the blank", "PDG jeopardy", "trivia" and "word jumble."