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News | Feb. 11, 2011

Historic firsts for AFNORTH sergeants lead to distinguished honors

By Mary McHale Air Forces Northern Public Affairs

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - It had all the markings of a historic event – with firsts on several fronts.

As well it should; it was a historic event.

At a ceremony held Jan. 28, two Air Forces Northern technical sergeants were the first-ever U.S. Airmen to graduate from the Canadian Intermediate Leadership Program at the Canadian Forces College, Noncommissioned Member Professional Development Center, St. Jean Sur Richlieu in Quebec, Canada.

Not only were they the first international students to graduate, Tech. Sgts. Robert Carnall, 702nd Computer Support Squadron system administrator and Clifford Fallico, an AFNORTH intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planner, were also the first international students to receive the “Comradeship Award,” a peer-voted honor awarded to only four students in the 120-member class, and similar to U.S professional military education’s ‘distinguished graduate’ title.

“It was an absolute honor to be recognized,” Sergeant Fallico said. “For me, it represented what can be accomplished when you put aside differences, treat others with respect and work toward a common goal.  The Canadians in my class impressed me greatly.”

Sergeant Carnall added the award was a completely unexpected accolade.

“I did not expect it at all,” he said. “To be voted for this award by my peers and instructors was really awesome, and made me proud to represent the United States Air Force.”

“The award they were presented with is more like our Commandant’s Award,” Chief Master Sgt. Carl Collins, 702nd CSS Chief Enlisted Manager said. What’s impressive about the award is it is voted on by their peers. Obviously both of their flights were impressed with the way they conducted themselves throughout the course.  What a great way to begin the legacy of partnership PME with our Canadian counterparts.”

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Angela Abshire, director of standards at the NCMPDC, said the award is presented to students, “who are a driving force and those who have contributed to overall mission success through team effectiveness.”

According to Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Thornell, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region - 1st AF (AFNORTH) Command Chief, the students were selected for the international PME course based on their supervisors’ recommendations and professional demeanor.

“We identified sharp NCOs who present themselves as professionals with a focus on further education,” Chief Thornell said. “We looked for people we believe will eventually take on leadership roles to develop them into good leaders for their organization. Through this program, we hope the students gain a deeper understanding of the Canadian military organization and culture and use it to further enhance our relationship with our Canadian counterparts.”

The sergeants said the three-week course covered a range of topics. There were some similar to U.S. Air Force PME, such as management styles, planning, finance and conflict resolution. Conversely, there were some not similar, like how the 120-person class included active and reserve from all the Canadian elements -- Air Force, Army, Navy.  Additionally, there were several lessons on conducting investigations into breaches of military justice since there is no counterpart to an inspector general or office of special investigations in the Canadian Forces.

“There was heavy emphasis on investigative techniques,” Sergeant Carnall said. “I found it interesting they have that as an area of study, as it’s one of the major duties of their senior NCOs.”

He said the standard day began at 8 a.m. and ended at approximately 4:10 p.m., and although there was not mandatory physical fitness training built into the curriculum, the students made individual decisions to participate in a physical fitness regimen of their own choosing. The 120-person group was split into four platoons, which would then be split into ‘syndicates’ when a smaller-knit environment was required. The instruction format was teach, discuss, perform and much like the U.S. PME program, focused on developing leaders.

That’s a key concept for Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy,

“Today’s NCOs are in leadership positions that were unheard of in years past,” the Air Force senior ranking Chief said. “We are committed to getting our enlisted Airmen the experiences, education and training that will help them succeed in any mission they are asked to perform throughout their career. It makes perfect sense to have Airmen attend partner nation or joining courses when they will be able to use those experiences in future assignments.”

Chief Master Sgt. William Usry, NORAD-U.S. Northern Command senior enlisted leader and former CONR- 1st AF (AFNORTH) command chief was another Airman who advocated the importance of the program.

“These kinds of opportunities for NCOs represent a significant step forward in the deliberate development of both of our NCO corps,” Chief Usry said. “The interaction between our two countries’ militaries goes back for many years to include the Bi-National NORAD agreement and it continues today throughout the world. It only makes good tactical sense to enhance our interoperability whenever possible and that includes PME exchanges of this nature.”

Along with classroom academics, there was also the drill portion, where students practiced parade drill and funeral procession drill. Sergeant Carnall said the Canadian drill instructor, “had a great time with us” as each of the sergeants learned about further differences between the Canadian and United States military.

“One big difference I found was their drill commands,” Sergeant Carnall said. “Where we would say ‘right face’ they say ‘right turn.’ Where we would say ‘column left,’ they would say ‘move to the left in column of route, left turn.’”

Another twist to the drill portion was part of the commands were given in French along with English.

The sergeants said they would memorize not only those bilingual commands, but the whole ceremony as well.

“Canada and the United States have always shared a unique partnership,” said Canadian Detachment Unit Warrant Officer Christine Beamish, currently stationed at CONR.  “It only makes sense to foster this relationship by building on the understanding and expectations of our nations’ core values on military service and leadership.”

And while there were many lighthearted moments during drill, there was also a much more somber portion – learning how to put together and conduct a military funeral procession. For the sergeants’ classmates, it was an emotionally raw reality they could be appointed at any time to assist with a fallen comrade’s funeral arrangements.

“It’s called being an assisting officer and since the Canadian military does not have an official honor guard unit, anyone can be chosen to be one,” Sergeant Fallico said. “The AO puts together the whole thing – from choosing the “bear party” – pallbearers -- to assisting the family. It’s very important that everyone learns to do it and at times it was very emotional.”

Outside academics and drill, there were briefings for the whole group on a variety of leadership topics. Sergeant Carnall said the briefings were often simultaneously dual language. For example, if the slide presentation was in French, the verbal presentation would be in English and vice versa. One briefing the sergeants said they particularly enjoyed was presented by the three Canadian enlisted service chiefs and the Canadian Chief Warrant Officer, who leads the Canadian enlisted force.

“In my opinion, they respected the time they had in front of the troops and were open and honest about the current status and future of forces,” said Sergeant Fallico. “I was impressed by how they all took significant time from their busy schedules to address concerns and directly state their expectations of the future leaders in the room.”

In fact, both the sergeants named the camaraderie and teamwork they developed through the course as the highlight, especially after class in the “shack,” the nickname for their dorms. Each platoon lived together, with each student having a separate room and shared hallway.

Sergeant Fallico said the entire course is set up to be geared toward interaction and communication, and it didn’t end at the academic day.

“The shack hallway became the classroom,” he said. “You see each other, interact and talk about everything. I would get asked everything from, ‘why my boots were the color they were’ to questions about command structure and how we operate.”

“From the time we got back from dinner around 6:30 p.m., we would do our homework then meet in the hall.” Sergeant Carnall said. “There was a lot of talk about work and work-related problems and solutions. I came to learn a lot and appreciate all their different career fields.”

It’s a point Chief Abshire completely agrees with.

“The students are just jazzed as they interact with each other and gain new perspectives,” Chief Abshire said. “But it goes so much further than the classroom, as the students talk about their jobs and lives, what experiences they’ve had.  Many talk of friendships they’ve made. I think the greatest result of this effort is we are building future leaders, making them the best they can be.”

“We don’t do anything by ourselves,” said Chief Roy. “We are part of a larger joint and coalition, and what we have to do is ensure that graduates of partner nation or joint PME courses are deliberately placed in assignments where that experience will benefit the mission. This is just one way we are trying to deliberately develop our enlisted Airmen throughout their career lifecycle.” Chief Collins stressed the joint atmosphere advantage as well.

“By allowing our members to attend joint and coalition professional military education such as the Canadian program, we only strengthen our enlisted members ability to operate and face the challenges in a joint and coalition environment,” Chief Collins said. “Needless to say, I’m very excited to see our enlisted force getting this opportunity and I hope to see more of the type of exchanges among the enlisted forces in the future.”