Why Course 15 Isn't Burning Down NCO Corps


    Apparently JQ Public, someone who should know better, is talking online about how Course 15 is "burning down" the NCO Corps in the USAF.  Here I would like to address his whining.

Advanced Warning

    All the NCOs in my work center were given advanced notice multiple times on Course 15 enrollment.  There was tons of effort put into making sure people knew what people were supposed to be doing in Course 15.

Infographic Time Quotes Are Way Wrong

    I'm going to have to assume the author of the blog post got the infographic from someone else and didn't fact check it.  But of course, why not?  That would work against their tendency to do nothing but trash the military, mainly the USAF.
    First, the materials are the same as NCOA.  That is a six week course, and the new Course 15 turns it into four weeks.  So they cut out two weeks doing this.
    Second, there were 39 manuals to read for NCOA.  Each one of those took one normal day (2-4 hours of free time after an 8 hour shift)  to read through, which was part of NCOA.
    Third, many of the people in NCOA had just as much volumes in CDCs.  And we study that stuff in 2-3 months for WAPS testing.  Same story: it took me one day to read an entire volume.
    Fourth, I did my CDCs, that many volumes, back when I was an airman and I had to carry them around with me.  There weren't smart phones and PDFs of my CDCs and a million other ways to read them all.  I did that while working through the flight line life.
    So even if you count the two weeks trimmed down for NCOA "light" using Course 15, and assume 16 hour days to work through the volumes, because we moved very quick, plus reading 12 hours through both weekend days, that's 208 hours of reading, not 500-something.

Line By Line Rebuttal

    I am now going to go through it line by line and rebut everything.  The original author's words (and quotes) in italics:

Once upon a time, there was a thing called NCO Academy.

There still is NCOA.

Then came tough budget choices. And while leaving many other patently wasteful activities untouched, the Air Force turned NCO Academy into a brief resident touch-and-go preceded by an independent study “distance learning” course. It then rushed the development of the course to get it to market quickly, resulting in a product riven with defiances of logic, grammar, and common sense.

First, I think you need to bring forward what programs you think you would've liked to see get cut.  Even then, keep in mind that you're not the one calling the shots.  When you're CMSAF, someone is going to disagree with your decisions, too.  If you were CMSAF, you'd probably understand what's going on because you'd see the big picture.

Second, if the materials have problems, maybe you could submitting critiques and/or feedback and/or change requests (as outlined in the manuals).  Did you bother submitting feedback?

It’s wildly unpopular with NCOs forced to complete it at the point of a career bayonet. But to make matters worse, the geniuses running the Air Force’s enlisted bureaucracy decided to give NCOs a single year to complete the course. It can’t be done while at work, even in the workplaces that are not so woefully undermanned that no one could possibly divert from the mission to click through it even if they wanted to. The result is that it’s just one more incursion upon the off-duty time of the Air Force’s hardest-working segment of airmen … and a nasty distraction from their professional development rather than a tool to that end.

First, when is popularity proof or disproof for something?  Some references to rule by mob and the lessons learned in pre-WW2 Germany come to mind on this point.

Second, you're exaggerating.  Otherwise called catastrophizing.  How does giving someone 1 year to do something that previously took 2 weeks (six if you want, since that's how long the "full" NCOA runs) difficult?  While I was at NCOA, I ate, slept, breathed the study materials, trying to earn an award.  Who are you to say it "can't be done" while at work?  Have you been out to every AFSC's work environment to research whether it can or can't be done?  What have you tried and what has or has not worked?  I don't see any examples of what truly makes our NCOs great (their ability to get the mission done despite obstacles).

But … perhaps to accustomed to leading by coercion, the bureaucrats may have overplayed their hand this time. Judging by the email below — one of several obtained by JQP on this subject — the vast majority of Staff Sergeants are not going to get the course done by the imposed one-year deadline … either because they’re unable to complete the material and pass the tests on the timeline imposed, or because they’re conducting a “peasant revolt” of sorts, refusing to respond to the incentive structure imposed by administrators.
No one is coercing anyone.  I don't think you read the email very well.  They're alarmed that people aren't getting it done.  I won't speak for everyone, but I will say that so far the majority of NCOs in Course 15 that have complained about how much of their time it takes aren't doing anything about it yet.  That's my experience at my base.  Every base and work center is different.

For the record, if they're conducting a "peasant revolt", they deserve the consequences outlined.  My opinion: no one involved in a "revolt" on Course 15 deserves to be a TSgt, so ironically they're already going to get what they deserve if they do so.  All the people that are looked down upon because they "bleed blue" are going to make rank, which fixes the problem.

Those who don’t complete the course on time can’t be promoted and can’t re-enlist. This could create a hole in the enlisted force structure or even a shock wave of compelled separations, leaving the manpower spine of an already limping service dangerously brittle. Good thing the world is such a stable place right now.

You don't know the future.

By the way, since that email looks fresh, I'm guessing you're at an ACC base, probably Shaw AFB.

Garbutt stops short of suggesting that airmen not yet complete in their coursework should be cajoled or heckled. But the subtext of her message is pretty clear … barring a change of policy or a change in behavior by NCOs, there is a manning crisis on the near horizon.

If this was the way to do a litmus test and see which SSgts deserve to be in the military or not, they did a good job.

Responses to this situation have been unfolding across the force, taking basically two forms. The first is basically to continue prodding and hope for the best. It’s typified by the sort of passive chatter we see in this snapshot lifted recently from the “Ask a Chief Virtual Panel” Facebook page:
Dorvil closes by cheering airmen and supervisors to “knock this out,” littering her response with unduly upbeat syntax and several cheerful exclamation points.
I hate when leaders try to remain positive.  Totally ruins my day! </sarcasm>

The second brand of response is best described as bureaucratic coercion. We chronicled an example of this recently when we shared an email that made the rounds at Kadena, where the local E-9 decreed that anyone not yet complete would have letter placed in his or her personnel file.
Neither of these impulses stands any chance of making a difference. The former will be shaken off like a mild case of fleas and the latter will engender alienation and resistance.
The only way out of this mess is a change in policy to give NCOs reasonable time to complete the requirement. This might help take the edge off the issue, even if it can only be decisively settled with a suspension and complete re-thinking of the entire Course 15 debacle.

The only way?  I've already showed that there's plenty of time.  However, if someone is truly so busy they couldn't complete it, commanders can take action to prevent its negative effect, if they feel it's justified.

The senior E-9 crowd is noticeably stupefied on this one. Asked recently by one of her airmen why the Course 15 failure rate was so high (around half), CMSgt. Shelina Frey, who is responsible for the welfare of the 38,000 enlisted airmen assigned to Air Mobility Command, gave an answer that reportedly argued Course 15 is written at “an 8th grade level.”

All CDCs and similar materials are.  Where's this reported text?  So what if he/she said it's not because the materials are difficult?

Well, if it is, that might explain the lack of interest, which in turn might explain just about everything else. But just the fact Frey is willing to say that out loud is basically an admission the Course 15 is what many airmen say it is: at best, a marginally useful obligation that yields too little for the required investment of time and effort, and doesn’t make anyone a smarter or better NCO … and at worst, one more toxic imposition by a clueless senior management cadre seemingly bent on burning down the NCO corps.
Where does CMSAF Cody stand on all this?
You don't know how much CMSAF Cody cares because you're not with him 24/7.  Also, you can't read minds.  Again, you're catastrophizing.

Sorry, but you get out of the military what you put into it.  I guess the problem is SSgts don't (yet) see that it benefits them.  They'll wake up, either because they were politely asked to wake up, or because they got tossed out of bed.  Hopefully it will be because of them listening.

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