NCO Academy classes for 771 airmen were interrupted by the shutdown. There is no word on when they will resume. (Senior Airman Aaron-Forrest Wainwright/Air Force)
BY THE NUMBERS
Since Oct. 1:
771 airmen at NCO Academies were sent home
154 students were able to finish the course
125 airmen in Airman Leadership School were sent home
The careers of close to 900 enlisted airmen are in limbo after their professional military education courses were interrupted by the government shutdown, according to the Air Force.
Since Congress failed to agree on funding the government for this fiscal year, 771 airmen have been sent back to their duty stations before finishing the Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Another 125 airmen were sent home before completing Airman Leadership School, according to data provided by the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education at Air University.
As of Oct. 10, it was not known if all those airmen would be able to return to the in-residence courses, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said.
The Air Force is formulating a policy outlining varying options — “whether we’ll be able to give some people credit, how they’ll finish up the course, whether we’ll send them back,” Cody said in an interview.
Cody expected that guidance to be issued shortly. He said he did not want to talk about the options being considered until they are finalized because some of the possible solutions may turn out not to be feasible.
Not everyone at the NCO Academy was sent home: 154 students were able to finish the course, according to the Air Force.
Senior airmen need to complete Airman Leadership School in order to be promoted to staff sergeant and technical sergeants need to finish the NCO Academy before they can advance to master sergeant.The Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy was not in session when the shutdown hit.
The sudden interruption in professional military education has left affected airmen confused about what happens next in their career development.
Tech. Sgt. Thom Sidelinger was sent home from the NCO Academy on Oct. 4. He was told he would not get credit for the 11 days of work he did while there.
“That part makes sense because they can’t guarantee that every single person they’re going to send home can make it to the next class and pick up right exactly where we left off,” Sidelinger said.
Of his class of 160 students at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., between 15 to 20 lived locally so they were allowed to finish the course, said Sidelinger, who lives 840 miles away in Great Falls, Mont.
Sidelinger said he has been guaranteed a slot in an upcoming class at the NCO Academy, but he does not know when that will be.
“How would you feel if you wasted three weeks of your life away from your family?” he said. “And it’s a waste of money because taxpayers are now going to have to pay for me to go twice instead of once.”
Other airmen who spoke to Air Force Times anonymously said they were unsure whether they would be allowed to return to their in-residence courses.
“We can’t even be told whether or not we’re going to go back and have to start over at the beginning or go back finish off where we left off,” said one airman stationed in North Carolina, who asked not to be identified.
If he is told that he will not get credit for the four weeks he spent at the NCO Academy at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tenn., the airman said he plans to contact the Air Force inspector general’s office.
Most of the airman’s ire is directed toward Congress.
“I would tell them to get their act together and see how this is affecting the lives of everybody,” the airman in North Carolina said.
Reservists have been particularly hard hit by the interruption in PME courses because they have to ask their employers if they can return to work and ask for more time off to take the course again, said Reserve Master Sgt. Manuel Chavez, of the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.
“The employer can essentially say, ‘I already had you slotted for this time; I already have overtime built in to cover your shift,’ or ‘I brought in another person to cover your shift,’ ” Chavez said.
Chavez had been slated to attend the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Oct. 7, but now that has been pushed to Oct. 21 if Congress can pass some kind of funding for the government. The later start would mean he would miss drill weekends through December.
Despite the problems caused by the change in schedule, Chavez is determined not to pass up the opportunity to go to school.
“I have to do it,” he said. “It’s something I need to do, I want to do, and I think it’s going to be better for me and the Air Force in the end.”
Meanwhile, he too is frustrated with Congress. “I no longer wish to see the American military member forced to be the punching bag or consistently be the can that gets kicked down the road,” he said. “The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Guardsmen and women who are America’s most loyal servants must not be further abused because one is unwilling to or is failing to do the people’s wishes.”