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Beale ALS adapts as AF culture changes

Four Airmen Leadership School instructors pose for a photo

From left, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kopp and Tech. Sgt. Allan Degala, 9th Force Support Squadron, Airman Leadership School instructors, Master Sgt. StaLissa K. Mendez, 9th FSS, ALS commandant, and Staff Sgt. Yariel Ramirez, 9th FSS, ALS instructor, stand together at the William H. Pitsenbarger Professional Military Education Center, Beale Air Force Base, California, Nov. 22, 2019. ALS instructors serve on a three to four-year special duty assignment preparing Senior Airmen for increased responsibilities as a NCO, supervisor and leader. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Melanie L. Nolen)

A photo of a senior non-commissioned officer addressing an Airmen Leadership School class.

Master Sgt. Malcolm Curtis, 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Detachment 1 pro Superintendent, addresses students at Airman Leadership School, in the William H. Pitsenbarger Professional Military Education Center, Beale Air Force Base, California, Nov. 21, 2019. Curtis taught techniques for public speaking to help the students be better prepared for their oral performance tasks and their future duties as U.S. Air Force NCOs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Melanie L. Nolen)

A photo of Airmen sitting in desks during a Airmen Leadership School class

Airman Leadership School students check their assignments at the William H. Pitsenbarger Professional Military Education Center, on Beale Air Force Base, California, Nov. 22, 2019. ALS is the first-level PME course designed to prepare Senior Airmen to supervise and become leaders. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Melanie L. Nolen)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

With an instructor cadre of three NCOs and one senior NCO, the Airman Leadership School at Beale AFB may seem small, but they know how they are impacting future leaders of the Air Force.  With most of the Senior Airmen students from Beale and a few from surrounding bases, this cadre knows that helping the Air Force’s newest NCOs adapt to a changing culture will need to start with them.

“In the Air Force, the one constant is change, and being able to adapt to those changes is critical,” said Master Sgt. StaLissa K. Mendez, the commandant of Beale ALS.  “If we are not able to adapt and change with the times, we are going to be left behind.”

Over the past year, many student-focused changes have been happening at ALS. Three of those changes include revising the curriculum, updating and renaming the classrooms, and transferring the role of graduation guest speaker to ALS students.

“The major change for almost all students and staff was the removal of the graded examinations, but students are now tasked with graded performance tasks, simulations and a Capstone,” said Mendez. “Another change in curriculum was the deletion of drill and ceremonies, although we still conduct reveille and retreat daily. Some great additions are lessons such as the National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Enterprise and Critical Thinking. Those are all going on in today’s Air Force.”

In addition to new classroom lessons, the students will be learning from each other’s experiences.

“A lot of the material that we have now can be personalized to each individual person,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kopp, an instructor at Beale ALS. “It relies a lot on the students to share their experiences in their own career and it’s less of a ‘here is the book and here is the test’. It’s more about ways to creatively solve a problem. We are trying to build that ability to think on your feet, think critically and make good choices and this curriculum is pushing that.”

 The curriculum changes began with the June 2019 ALS class and the validation period will go until February 2020, said Mendez. There may be additional changes adopted at that time.

“In addition to the curriculum changes, we began revitalizing the building by changing the names of the flight rooms and updating classroom technology for better delivery of the new curriculum,” said Mendez.

To be more relevant for students, the names of the student classrooms are now Global Hawk, Blackbird and Dragon Lady to reflect the reconnaissance aircraft with a history here at Beale, said Kopp.

Another way to make ALS more relevant to the students was to have current ALS students speak at graduation, in addition to having higher-ranking guest speakers.

“ALS is about Airmen leaving the Airman tier and being confident and prepared to step into the Sergeant tier,” said Mendez.  “I think it’s important that they are able to tell a story about what’s important to them and what they have learned coming up in rank."

It’s more impactful from the student’s perspective to hear one of their peers talk about how they need to be leaders, why it’s important to take care of the people coming behind them and how they play a role in the story of those who led before them, said Kopp.

Learning from past leaders is only part of the foundation that ALS graduates will need to excel in a leadership role.

“We are giving the Airmen some foundational learning and then giving them back to their units,” said Kopp. “We are relying on them, once they graduate, to continue their development from being a new NCO to becoming a stellar NCO. We ask the units, ‘If you have questions, ask us. Give us your feedback.’  A lot can be answered if we communicate.”

Communication has been and will always be a key part of the success of the students and PME as a whole, said Mendez.

“The schoolhouse cannot run on its own as it takes support from all,” Mendez said. “I am grateful to our Wing leadership, the first sergeants, the chiefs group and the student supervisors for their honest thoughts about how we are producing our next generation of leaders. Our instructor cadre have adapted to change rapidly and I know that we will continue to produce excellence out of the schoolhouse.”