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News | Aug. 12, 2010

NORAD, USNORTHCOM pushes to expand enlisted education to Canada

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - When Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Simer, U.S. Northern Command J38 Special Activities Branch, found out he was advancing to senior master sergeant, he knew he’d be enrolled in professional military education, he just didn't know it would be in Canada.

Thanks to a push from his command senior enlisted leader, the Air University command chief master sergeant and even the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Simer got the opportunity to be the first Air Force non-commissioned officer to attend the Advanced Leadership Qualification Course at the Non-Commissioned Member Professional Development Centre at Fort Saint-Jean, Quebec.

"I was a bit uncertain, not knowing what to expect going to another country's PME," Simer said. "After attending the school, I don't think I would have traded it for anything."

Although it is common for members of foreign militaries to attend U.S. military schools, the opposite is quite rare. It requires the approval of the service and the respective embassies. The school has to be certified as being the equivalent of the U.S. school. Country clearances have to be obtained, finances worked out and language barriers overcome. The process of creating such opportunities and making them repeatable are daunting, but Simer's CSEL, Chief Master Sgt. W. Allen Usry, North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM CSEL, said it's worth it, and he is working to make sure other U.S. members can follow in Simer's footsteps to Canada.

"When you're talking about a binational command like NORAD, pursuing these types of developmental opportunities is really about enhancing mission effectiveness," Usry said. "We have a 53-year binational relationship with Canada. Together we defend the airspace of North America. These are exactly the kind of things we should be pursuing. It just makes sense."

The U.S. military's relationship with the Canadian Forces through NORAD and USNORTHCOM makes the commands the perfect jumping off point for this push, Usry argued. U.S. and Canadian Forces members work side-by-side in NORAD units, and while they are not assigned together at USNORTHCOM, the command shares an area of responsibility with Canada Command, USNORTHCOM's northern equivalent.

"When you look at Canada Command's AOR and our AOR, the NORAD binational agreement, our similar cultures and our geography, it's a natural fit. It expands the capacities of both nations and increases our ability to interact."

Usry isn't the only Air Force senior enlisted member who thinks so. Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy helped lay the groundwork in late 2009 when he met with his Canadian counterpart, Canadian Chief Warrant Officer Rene Couturier, to discuss a permanent agreement to allow Air Force senior NCOs to attend Canadian PME courses.

"We don’t do anything by ourselves," Roy said. "We are part of a larger joint and coalition team, and we need to understand how our partners operate to accomplish our global mission. We are committed to getting our enlisted Airmen the experiences, education and training that will help them succeed in any mission we are asking them to perform. It makes perfect sense to have Airmen attend partner nation or joint courses when they will be able to use those experiences in future assignments."

Usry said the benefits of opening this door would be far-reaching, particularly for NORAD.

"Think about where this would benefit just NORAD," he said. "The Eastern Air Defense Sector, Western Air Defense Sector, here at the headquarters, 1st Air Force, North Bay at the 722nd ACS, Det 1 at Winnipeg. There's a multitude of locations where we would benefit from this, and that's not even including deployed locations like Kandahar."

With the U.S. military working with foreign militaries more and more, finding ways for enlisted members to train together makes sense, Usry said.

"In the last 30 years, the times have changed," Usry explained. "We don't have the force to do everything on our own as we used to. We're concentrating more on building partnership capacity, and the amount of interaction between U.S. and other militaries has increased significantly so these kind of interactions have become vital."

The road to Quebec was a long one. Usry, along with Chief Master Sgt. Brye McMillon, Air University's command chief master sergeant, conducted a site survey of Fort Saint-Jean in 2009 to assess the potential of sending an Air Force NCO there for training, recommending that a high priority be given to moving the program forward.

McMillon, who is responsible for keeping the program going forward, ensured that the curriculum was reviewed to determine equivalency and worked with Air Force A1D and the Canadians to determine what qualifications attendees should have prior to attending. The goal, he said, was to produce something that was more than a one-time oddity.

"We wanted to make sure we created something that was reproducible, not a one-time good deal," he said. "The more time we spend operating and learning in the presence of those we support and are supported by, the stronger the bond."

Although a combined command that includes members from all services, Usry went through Air Force channels for this effort because of his familiarity with the system and Roy's support, but he said the opportunity needs to be open for all services in NORAD and USNORTHCOM.

"This is not just about the Air Force," he stressed. "I want to look for opportunities with other services. We opened the door. Now it's time to start pushing people through it."

Usry said he is working with Army and Navy senior enlisted leaders to facilitate sending their own members to the Canadian course. Simer, who graduated the course June 18, said he recommends it to any NCO.

"I couldn't recommend it enough," he said. "It opened my eyes to our closest ally and how their noncommissioned officers take care of business, and having gained that knowledge, I think it will provide me with more tools in leading my troops and being a more well-rounded NCO."

McMillon said that while the organizations benefit from having their people attending these schools, there are also many advantages for the student.

"The greatest benefit is partnership building," he said. "Exposing an Airman to that environment further enhances working relationships, enhances familiarization, allows both nations' enlisted to become more aware of operational norms, command structure and each other's respective cultures. This is a great effort and an exceptional achievement in the development of our enlisted Airmen. The quality of our Airmen will be enhanced by this and other opportunities like it."

"This educational opportunity combined with Master Sgt. Simer's experience working in this binational command leave him much better prepared to deal with future challenges in his career, both within the Air Force and when dealing with other militaries," Usry agreed.

Roy said Simer is only the first of many who will gain this kind of career-broadening experience.

"This is a great achievement for him and for the United States Air Force," he said. "We will have many other U.S. Airmen follow in his footsteps, and it makes perfect sense for NORAD Airmen to attend and bring that experience back."