Enlisted PME breaks down cultural barriers

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ray Greebon
  • Airey NCO Academy
It has been said the noblest pursuit to which any American can aspire is to teach its citizen warriors to be great leaders in the profession of arms.

However, professional military education has gotten a bad rep in recent years as being out of touch with the "real Air Force;" a term which I can tell you from personal experience PME instructors loath.

Today's PME is not the same as it was years ago, especially in the enlisted arena.

This is the real Air Force. Today's enlisted corps is better educated, more versatile and more critically tasked than any previous generation. More is demanded of them and they are meeting the challenges worldwide and answering that call with valor.

Our first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Paul W. Airey, said of our enlisted corps, "We have young Airmen performing duties that are being done by field-grade officers in foreign air forces. The NCO force is the best it's ever been and we are the envy of the foreign air forces all over the world."

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Auger, Airey NCO Academy instructor, and Tech. Sgt. Erica Gage, Gaylor NCO Academy Instructor, from Lackland AFB, Texas exemplify that ideal in spirit and action. Sergeants Auger and Gage jumped eagerly at the opportunity in February 2008 to join a team teaching PME to the Iraqi air force's 500-member commissioned and warrant officer corps at Camp Tiji, Iraq.

Once in country, the sergeants immediately took control of the mission's progress. They recognized that merely translating our Air Force PME curriculum into their language would do a great injustice and might limit their hosts' willingness to adopt the program as their own.

The team, commanded by the 370th Expeditionary Training Squadron's Lt. Col. Michael L. Dilda, implemented a week long professional development course designed to ascertain the needs of the fledgling service. The lesson schedule included a variety of topics from Iraqi history, a list of proposed core values, military competencies and basic leadership principles.

With only a basic knowledge of the Iraqi language, they brought together 20 interpreters to help bridge the delicate rift that existed between numerous factions of the political and cultural infrastructure. Not only was it necessary to effectively explain leadership principles to this small group, but also to ensure the translators communicated the need for critical and independent thinking from each of the Iraqi students; a method completely foreign and unheard of by anyone other than the former regime's leadership.

The coalition Air Force's training team commander was so impressed at the initiative that he began brief to the Iraqi governmental staff on the capabilities and vision set in motion by the PME team.

Additionally, they developed a newsletter appropriately named the "The PME Advisor." The title page captured the essence of the mission; "PME Breaks Through Cultural Barriers."

These two enlisted warrior ambassadors are working hand-in-hand with Col. Ali-H-Naji, 2nd Helicopter Squadron commander, to overcome the cultural and responsibility barriers between the officer and warrant officer corps. At the conclusion of a problem solving lesson one warrant officer said every Iraqi should learn the lessons taught; positive proof  of the direct and historical impact PME is having on the future of the region, if not the world.

As a capstone, the team hosted a "Coalition Challenge" sporting event culminating with a cook out and cultural celebration. This event provided U.S. forces and Iraqi forces an opportunity to come together on common ground thereby bolstering confidence to everyone involved that the U.S.- led coalition is partnered in developing an independent Iraqi government and military force.

Conducting a diplomatic mission, combined with the cultural barriers, all the while trying to convey new concepts on leadership never before explored by the Iraqi military, makes the efforts of this team even more extraordinary. Even in an austere and hostile environment, with every waking hour, these patriots serve unselfishly and personify honor, leadership and sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

"Personally, I am very excited about the mission we are accomplishing here," said Sergeant Gage when asked if this is what they thought they would be doing as PME instructors. "While teaching our first group of students, we actually saw the learning process take place right before our eyes. They began a guided discussion and our interpreter, who was supposed to be interpreting, became so excited that he started sharing stories and asking for advice."

Sergeant Gage's reaction validates there's nothing more personally gratifying for an instructor than to see the light come on in their student's eyes when they finally 'get it.' The seriousness of the task at hand is not lost on either of them.

"In my opinion there is nothing more satisfying than seeing leadership and ethical principles cross the cultural and language barriers," said Sergeant Auger. "You can actually see the hope of a new future in their faces. However, you can also see the pain and struggles they go through on a daily basis. To succeed in developing a stronger force, our Western perspective focuses on developing a higher degree of reliance on the enlisted force to be decision makers. Shifting the Iraqi perspective and standard to this approach is the major mindset shift we are working to educate their warrant officers and officers."

These brave PME warriors left behind the comfort of the class room and stepped onto the battlefield and the world stage. Being in touch with the "real Air Force" is a concept that is in their face every day. They are helping open the gates of history. This is not the PME of years before; it's grown much more than anyone could have imagined.

So the question stands; are you willing to expand your professionalism and military influence, even across the globe and onto the battlefield? Do you have what it takes to lead from the front in the greatest enlisted air power organization the world has ever known? How far are you willing to take that commitment? PME duty may be your answer.

To learn more about PME instructor assignment availability visit the Air Force AMS Web page at https://www.my.af.mil/afpc2afas/AMSNET/EnlistedAssignments/EQPAssignments.aspx .
Under Equal Plus assignments, select the 8T000 career field (Air Force Safety Center).