Indecisive Bureaucrats Paralyzed as Course 15 Burns Down NCO Corps


Once upon a time, there was a thing called NCO Academy. It was a resident course for the Air Force’s mid-level NCOs designed to develop their leadership and management capabilities in preparation for enlarged roles.

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.

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.

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.

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. /s

The email:

Sent: Wednesday, April 06, 2016 6:38 PM
To: [All ACC Units Wing Level and Above]
Cc: [Important People]
Subject: ACTION: EPME Distance Learning Status Update


*View as HTML* 

ACC Senior Leaders, I need your help!

BLUF:  Airmen who do not successfully complete their required EPME within one year from the date of the AFPC-released “myPers notification email” will be rendered ineligible to reenlist/extend/promote (to include cancellation of promotion line number). 

Beginning 1 June 2015, AFPC used a phased approach to notify Airmen via myPers of the mandatory requirement to enroll in the applicable PME DL course.

Eligibility criteria:

Course 15 (NCOA DL) – 7-12 years TIS
Course 14 (SNCOA DL) – 12-18 years TIS 

Airmen have 12 months from the myPers notification date to successfully complete their respective DL course.  Acknowledgement of the myPers notification is mandatory regardless of course enrollment status. 

The 4-month snapshot below shows when our ACC Airmen were sent myPers notification emails directing them to enroll/complete their respective course.  A total of 15,366 notifications were sent during this time, however, only 2,879 (19%) have completed their respective DL Course.  If DL is not complete within 12 months of initial notification, members will be ineligible to reenlist/extend/promote.  The attached update will allow you to see your assigned personnel and their current status as of 31 March 2016.  Just click on your SRID and you will see who has completed and who has not completed their DL course. 


JUNE 2015

JULY 2015









276 (10%)

1,901 (19%)

11 (5%)

9 (3%)


2,372 (90%)

7,995 (81%)

231 (95%)

254 (97%)







463 (35%)

214 (23%)

3 (13%)

2 (8%)


864 (65%)

729 (77%)

20 (87%)

22 (92%)







739 (19%)

2,115 (20%)

14 (5%)

11 (4%)


3,236 (81%)

8,724 (80%)

251 (95%)

276 (96%)


Col Joan H. Garbutt
Director of Manpower, Personnel & Services HQ ACC  JB Langley-Eustis
DSN:  574-2703  Comm:  757-764-2703  BB:  757-771-7517

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.

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:

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 3.51.26 PM

Dorvil closes by cheering airmen and supervisors to “knock this out,” littering her response with unduly upbeat syntax and several cheerful exclamation points.

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 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.”

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?

[question hangs]

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