JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Airmen Leadership School is key for Airmen to be successful front line supervisors and leaders; an important aspect considered with the recent pandemic COVID-19 affecting the lives of Airmen across the globe.
“The coronavirus definitely changed how we operate currently, and in the future,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Felicio, Professional Military Education instructor. “Safety is the number one priority. Airmen are instructed that if they feel sick or might have symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home, and get in contact with Public Health. That’s why we’re able to do this [ALS] because of all of the precautionary measures we have in place.”
Although ALS is operational again, there have been several changes made to ensure the safety and protection of students, instructors, and their families and friends.
Students and instructors must maintain social distancing of six feet or more, masks are mandatory, extra cleaning measures have been implemented, hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the building, class schedules have shifted so students enter incrementally, and class size has dropped from 16 students to eight.
“Being an instructor, something that we teach is being an adaptable leader and I think the students are beginning to understand that,” Felicio said. “Changes are going to happen in life and in your Air Force career, and learning how to handle that is important at all levels.”
ALS has also had to implement changes to graduation, volunteering, Physical Training program, traditional volleyball match against the First Sergeants, commandant hours, meetings with base leadership, and after school studying.
While some installations decided to opt for a virtual approach to ALS, JBER PME cadre wanted Airmen to still have an opportunity to network and receive face-to-face learning.
“We [PME instructors] brainstormed about what would work best and came up with a way forward pretty quickly,” Felicio said. “We considered virtual training and tested out Zoom and Microsoft Teams before reaching a decision. We went through day-by-day to check and see how it would work, instead of just throwing a schedule out there or waiting last minute to establish a routine – we were pretty thorough. Ultimately, we agreed that there is a lot of value in face-to-face learning and the camaraderie that comes with it.
Each base is operating in their own way, figuring out what methods work best for them to provide the necessary curriculum and learning to students.
“I am glad that we can do it [ALS] in person instead of online,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Emily Greaves, 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman. “I think it would have been kind of boring having to sit at home learning through a computer for eight hours a day. It is definitely better to have the interaction and time to socialize with other people. And we definitely wouldn’t have been as close and tight knit within the class.”
ALS is designed to educate students on how to overcome challenges. This can be beneficial as Airmen experience different growth opportunities which could potentially help them later in their Air Force career.
“I can’t think of any major hiccups or challenges that we’ve had because of all of the proactive measures and planning we did ahead of time,” Felicio said. “Obviously it is not the same as it used to be, but the feedback from instructors and students has been positive overall. Things like graduation will definitely be missed, but in general Airmen are satisfied with the learning they are receiving. The most important aspect is making sure that Airmen get the education they deserve.”
COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation which has tested and showcased the innovative processes executed and implemented by PME instructors and students at JBER.