ALS: Setting up supervisors for success

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When it comes to leaders, Airmen fit the description with the values ingrained into them through words from the Airman’s creed: “Wingman; Leader; Warrior.” When it comes to leading first-term Airmen at Spangdahlem Air Base, that task primarily belongs to Pitsenbarger Airman Leadership School graduates.

ALS focuses on developing junior enlisted Airmen into front-line supervisors. Spangdahlem’s ALS has a unique approach to this aim, as its school bears the name of an Airman who, within his lifetime, did not possess the minimum rank required to attend its course.

Yet, Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger’s selfless actions April 11, 1966 – in which he aided wounded Soldiers, returned enemy fire and gave the ultimate sacrifice – not only earned him a posthumous promotion to staff sergeant but also the Medal of Honor. His legacy serves as an integral institute to shape future NCOs here.

“It’s the foundation for professional development of our enlisted core,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Wester, 52nd Operations Group manager. “I believe front-line supervisors have the greatest impact on our first-term Airmen, so we really have to do our best to make sure we are developing good supervisors. If we don’t, our Airmen are going to be the individuals to pay the price.”

ALS classes here lasts 24 duty days and are divided into three separate flights, each one led by a NCO instructor. Approximately 50 students attend each class with a commandant overseeing the entire course.

“We’re not teaching them anything new,” said Master Sgt. Roberto Oregon, Pitsenbarger ALS commandant. “We teach them to lead the right way.”

During the course, Airmen undergo a variety of academic training to bring out their leadership qualities for their soon-to-be positions as supervisors.

Oregon said students learn everything from negotiating tactics; interoperation with agencies in and outside the Air Force; macro and micro cultures; how to complete standardized items such as Airman comprehensive assessment feedback forms, enlisted performance reports, decorations, award packages and letters of counseling.

“I went through the program in 1998,” Wester said. “It is a much different program now compared to when I went as a student. It’s definitely a lot more challenging, and that just shows the nature of how our NCO core has grown.”

Oregon said, although challenging, students appreciate the fundamentals and the foundation provided to them during the course, as it helps them survive as leaders.

However, one particular activity during the course proved to be less challenging for the students.

During the last two weeks of the course, a volleyball game occurs between senior NCOs and an ALS class.

Oregon said the volleyball game is for stress relief following one of the final tests the students must take, but he also teaches the students how the game can relate to leadership.

And Class 16-F students took up Oregon’s opportunity and then some, as they not only served up lessons of their own but took home the second student victory over their seasoned competitors in as much as 20 games.

“I learned that the chiefs and shirts need to step up their game,” said Senior Airman Jonah Webber, 52nd Communications Squadron client systems technician.

While in jest, Webber later highlighted how the intricacies of the game – the communication between players striving toward a common goal – would be the greatest takeaway from the session, rather than mere bragging rights.

With the volleyball match and classroom examinations behind them, students of class 16-F had just one challenge in front of them: graduation.

Save for a walk across a stage, a handshake and salute, they’d enter Club Eifel here, Aug. 25, 2016 as PME students but would leave as front-line supervisors.

“It was challenging, but it feels great to be done,” Webber said. “I’m excited to use all of the knowledge I’ve learned such as completing Airman comprehensive assessments, understanding different leadership styles, negotiating tactics and how to handle situations.”

Oregon said after only five-and-a-half-weeks he witnesses growth and maturity in students. The multitude of new information learned becomes helpful to so much more than just their job.

“This course has nothing to do with your stripe and has everything to do with your life,” said Oregon.

The short duration of ALS may not translate to a proportion of leadership Pitsenbarger demonstrated, but students have the opportunity to make a real impact in their own life and in the Air Force.

“If there’s one thing I’d like graduates to take away from the course, it’s for them to really get a feel for the awesome responsibility they now have,” Wester said. “Once you graduate you can officially be entrusted with the Air Force’s greatest weapons system: our Airmen.”