A Maxwell Air Force Base Airman Leadership School class conducts a retreat Oct. 3. More than 100 airmen in various ALS classes were sent home early because of the shutdown. (Air Force)
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All of the roughly 900 airmen who were unable to complete their in-residence professional military education due to the government shutdown can go back to school this fiscal year, Chief Master Sgt. William Ward, chief of Air Force enlisted developmental education, said Tuesday.
Those airmen will also have the option of completing their courses using distance learning, Ward told Air Force Times.
“Regardless of the method that they choose, they will be given PME credit. And as far as promotions, there will be no difference between this person who did it through distance learning and a person who went in-residence — in this situation,” Ward said.
The Air Force can also temporarily waive the PME requirement for some airmen affected by the shutdown, allowing them to be promoted and make up the class later, Ward said.
The Air Force sent home 771 airmen before they completed the Noncommissioned Officer Academy and another 125 airmen before they finished Airman Leadership School during the shutdown. Technical sergeants need to finish the NCO Academy before they can advance to master sergeant, and senior airmen need to complete Airman Leadership School in order to be promoted to staff sergeant.
Each of the airmen who was sent home will be contacted by the Air Force Personnel Center about their options for completing coursework, Ward said.
“The first option ... is that airmen who attended and didn’t complete can elect to go back to do the full resident course if he or she chooses,” Ward said. “They will be scheduled by Air Force Personnel Center during fiscal 2014, this year.”
The Air Force prioritizes when eligible airmen can attend the NCO Academy or Airman Leadership School based on several criteria, such as time in grade, he said.
“Tech sergeants with most time in grade are prioritized at the top of the list, so they get the earlier class dates,” Ward said. “Saying that, most of these individuals were in the first class of the [fiscal year] so they’re going to be at the high end of the eligibility [pool] anyway.”
Airmen who completed at least half of the required academic days — at least 14 at NCO Academy or 12 at Airman Leadership School — will be able to pick up their courses where they left off instead of having to start over, Ward said.
Returning the roughly 900 airmen to in-residence PME should not delay other airmen who are scheduled to attend Airman Leadership School or the NCO Academy this fiscal year, Ward said.
“We have the ability to increase seminar size and to put more students through,” he said.
Airmen also can finish their PME courses using distance learning, an option that could help airmen who are unable to study in residence at an NCO Academy or Airman Leadership School, Ward said.
Master Sgt. Manuel Chavez recently told Air Force Times that two airmen in his wing who were sent home during the shutdown do not have the option of going back to the NCO Academy this fiscal year.
One airman is starting a job in which she will be on a probationary status and the other is about to deploy for a year, said Chavez, of the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.
Airman downrange may be able to complete the distance learning, depending on how much time their schedule allows, Ward said.
“Usually your time is a little more constricted when you’re in a deployed environment,” he said. “You’re working usually six or seven days a week, 12 hours a day, but based on mission requirements, they would have that capability to do that. We have members that attend college classes in a deployed environment so they could work on this as well.”
Airmen who choose the distance-learning option must enroll within 30 days of being notified by the Air Force Personnel Center and then complete the course within one year.
The Air Force can also grant a temporary waiver for the PME requirement.
“That’s a permanent process that we got in place already,” Ward said, “because for deployments and other operational requirements, sometimes people can’t get there when they need to, so commanders have that authority to request waivers — for them to be promoted, to put on their stripe and then we get them into the next available PME class that we can so that they’re meeting the requirements of the Air Force to wear that rank.”