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CoL: Lifestyle Change from Civilian to ABM

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Savannah Stephens
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. April Albanese, an air battle manager instructor at the 337th Air Control Squadron Tyndall AFB, Fla., is living her Air Force dream, but it hasn’t been without a few trials along the way.

Growing up in New York she dreamed of being an Air Force officer as a young child, but that wasn’t in her parents’ plans for her.

“When I was a kid, the military was something I always wanted to do,” said Albanese. “I had a burning passion that I just needed to fulfill.”

Following college, she looked for ways to mimic the military lifestyle without having to wear the uniform every day. That search led her to becoming a civilian flight instructor.

A job opportunity opened up for a trade school program where high school students could earn their private pilot’s license upon graduation.

The class started out with nine male students and only half-day sessions. During her first day of working there, she was told they were planning on closing down the program. She made it past that initial hurdle and made it her goal to grow and improve the program.

“I worked with the normal curriculum for six months before I began implementing changes,” said Albanese. “I just wanted to know how to reach out to other students and demographics while also making it fun and exciting.”

Instead of coming into the classroom each day and lecturing through slides, Albanese taught with balloons and vacuums. For the next two years, the entire program changed. The program shifted from instructor focused to student focused.

“I asked the students what they wanted to do in the classroom instead of telling them,” said Albanese.

Even though Albanese loved her job as an instructor, she still felt like she needed more.

“No matter what I did, the desire to join the Air Force never went away,” said Albanese. “So when I turned 28, I Googled how to become a pilot, found a recruiter, and here I am.”

Albanese applied for an Undergraduate Pilot Training slot before going to Officer Training School, but due to needing Lasik eye surgery the time needed to complete the surgery would age her out of the program, so she applied to be an ABM.

“When I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t about being a pilot. It was about being a part of something bigger and better than myself,” said Albanese. “It was the Air Force I was chasing, not the job of being a pilot.”

Following ABM training, Albanese was selected to be an instructor and she was able to transition easily into her new position.

“The content I was teaching was new to me, but the art of teaching was not,” said Albanese.

Albanese looks for ways to incorporate innovation and creativity into her day-to-day instruction. She teaches the curriculum she is told to teach, but does it in a way that creates creative thinkers. She creates a safe space for the students to plan and collaborate on group projects.

“The best thing we can do is foster creativity. Great ideas don’t come from the same old stuff that we do every day,” said Albanese. “If you don’t do things differently then you’re going to get the same result every single time.” 

All ABM students have a culminating project that is due upon graduation. The students are given all of the materials needed, but they aren’t told how to accomplish the mission. The instructors encourage the students to think creatively and find new ways to finish their 4-week project.

“The students here are looking to us, the instructors, for that inspiration,” Albanese said. “If you don’t give off the feeling that you love what you’re doing, then neither will they.”

Albanese and her fellow instructors have fostered an environment of innovation in the squadron and that shows in all aspects of training. The instructors have become more willing to take risks while getting their students through to graduation.

“I may not have landed that pilot slot, but I can truly say I am a better person for being an ABM,” said Albanese. “When I take my uniform off, whether it’s in my personal life or military, I am better for having done this.”

The ABM instructors are embracing Air Education and Training Command’s Continuum of Learning initiative. The shift in vision helps leaders and instructors to better focus on how Airmen learn by integrating education, training and experience in ways that allow them to learn anytime, anywhere throughout their careers.