From all walks of life, a few enlisted men and women have found themselves reaping the unexpected benefits aligned with Aerospace Ground Support (AGE) instruction. Whether they volunteer or are assigned to the new career path, AGE instructors ascertain that while it is a challenging process, it only leads to professional betterment.
The Air Force has a seemingly endless list of tracks and professions available at the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF). To those who think they know everything about AGE equipment, a brief stint as an AGE instructor will prove otherwise.
So was the case for a handful of airmen from the 361st training squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas who stayed the course and endured 36 apprentice hours, five craftsmen hours and ten supplemental hours en route to an associate's degree in AGE instruction.
But why be an AGE instructor? How does one become an AGE instructor? What does an AGE instructor do?
Commitment Is Key
AGE instruction is a 39-month career commitment, which is often extended due to the gratifying experience.
The initial process is fairly easy to initiate. Complete and submit the paperwork, which consists of approval from the squadron commander, performance reports and CCAF transcripts. The only other requirements are to be within one year of a CCAF associates degree and have medical clearance. Then it's a waiting game as the Air Force Personnel Center determines your fate. Once the teacher-in-training receives the good news, he has one year to complete his associate's degree.
The first four weeks are spent in basic instructor's courses. The CCAF lays the foundation with core classes in lesson planning, public speaking and a broad overview of how to be an instructor. An instructor has to be prepared for everything as Master Sergeant (MSgt) Eric Dudash states, "In my four-and-a-half years I haven't seen everything, but I have seen things I never would have seen if I were out in the field. You're dealing with people that miss home, people that have [children], people with personal problems from marriages to divorces … and this is the their first time away from home being in a military unit."
"When I first got here they told me we will spend 85 percent of the time dealing with 15 percent of the students because that 15 percent are the ones with behavior problems," Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Samuel Cole said.
After preparing the instructor-in-training for the unexpected, they delve into content, shadowing trained instructors as they lead classes on the Dash-86 and other equipment. This provides the student with an opportunity to observe a future colleague's lesson plan and tweak his/her lesson plans based on what works with the students.
Next comes a little role reversal as the trained instructor takes a back seat and observes the trainee in action. If the instructor states that the trainee is qualified then he/she is able to teach that block of instruction without a shadow.
You can walk away with quite the bounty of AGE-old knowledge after nearly 15 blocks of instruction, at which point you are prepared to step in front of the class on your own. At Sheppard in seven-level, the instructors teach about six classes each. Active duty for instructors is four blocks (two-and-a-half weeks), guard reserve is three blocks (two weeks) and a technician course is also offered in an eight block (six week) period.
"The benefit of teaching here is that you think you know the equipment, but to get out and teach it in front of a classroom, you have to step your game up to a whole different level," Technical Sergeant (TSgt) James Gerber said. "You're studying this equipment like it was a test, because you're teaching and there are going to be questions that you sometimes can't answer. I know how to use (the equipment), but it has to sink in my brain so as soon as you ask me a question, I'll know the answer."
Get on Board
The technology wave has swept the nation and the 361st training squadron didn't miss the epic swell. The slow evolution began, as many classrooms have—with a simple whiteboard and an overhead projector.
In the past, classes were somewhat interactive, after all a student could go to the white board with a marker or slightly burn his hand while trying to illustrate something on the overhead projector. But rest easy, an AGE instructor does not have to rely solely on a piece of chalk. Thanks to SMART Board technology, instructors and classmates alike can play John Madden at the head of the class with a digital ink pen and a computer screen.
The SMART Board is a touch-sensitive screen that can connect to a computer and digital projector to show the computer image on the screen. The board not only allows the user to control the computer directly from the display, but also scribe notes directly on the screen. After the lesson, the student and teacher can save the work for study or to use as part of a lesson plan on a later date. It's easier to slide a CD into your computer than shuttle through grayed copies of overhead slides or reuse smeared transparencies.
Another new ripple for the future AGE Rangers is the Sympodium. Similar to the SMART Board, this technology also allows onscreen note-taking and troubleshooting with access to the web or multimedia files.
"Now we have the technology of Sympodium, where we just draw on the computer screen so we can be more accurate. We can definitely highlight and pinpoint separate areas of concern, areas that we know can be problems in the field or problems in the future," MSgt Dudash testified.
Technology has made AGE instruction simple. Classes can contain more content and curriculums can have more comprehensive agenda because of innovative additions to the classroom.
"[Students] can actually troubleshoot off of a board," Dudash said. "They can take voltage readings and distance readings. Before, with overhead projectors, we actually had to go to [the piece of equipment.]"
Instructors are now capable of presenting a digital image of the equipment on the screen and illustrating what went wrong or could potentially go wrong with that piece of equipment. With the use of Flash and Rapid programs, instructors can draw and animate schematics and diagrams to further assist student comprehension. It helps to illustrate what actions need to be taken as a preventative measure to ensure that mistakes are not made in the field.
As of now the technology remains chained to the classroom, but the days of one student-one laptop are on the horizon.
Safety Factors Could Cost You an "ORM" and a Leg
Let's face it, AGE Rangers are tooling around in quite a few bundles of tax dollars on the ramp. One slip up and it's not just a knick in the paint job; it's potentially a $500,000 error. To prevent such mishaps AGE instructors weave Operational Risk Management (ORM) into every subject.
ORM is "a decision-making process to systematically evaluate possible courses of action, identify risks and benefits and determine the best course of action for any given situation."
"When it comes down to performing hands-on tasks, any safety violation that (the students) commit or deviation during a performance objective is an automatic failure," states TSgt Gerber.
If a student is wearing a ring, they are reprimanded for it. If they're wearing their dog tags or a watch in a laboratory environment, it results in an automatic failure of that objective. It's a fact that most accidents on the ramp are avoidable, therefore, an AGE instructor, wants safety to be second nature to her students. Dangers on the ramp are real and most instructors have experienced it one way or another.
"I knew a Master Sergeant at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. He was going on the 16th hour of his shift and he fell asleep driving in a bobtail and ran into a KC-10. I use [examples] so people know that it can happen to anyone," TSgt Cole says. Other than the ORM and the examples, instructors stick to the wingman concept (buddy system). Many hours can be lost when someone takes the solo route on a job that is clearly meant for two. AGE instructors and students take pride in protecting one another. It's not only AGE lives that are on the line, but many others as well.
Times Have Changed
More women continue to enlist and pursue this rewarding career path. Each classroom is made up of 12–13 students; nearly 10 percent are women and that number is growing.
Women are also entering the AGE instructional career path. Sheppard AFB has recently doubled its number of female instructors. "It's not about [gender]," MSgt Dudash says. "It's an AGE mechanic and that's the way we look at it."
AGE instruction is a gateway to further your education as well as influence the hundreds of lives that cross your path on your journey. Not only is the position attainable, but it is capable of enriching both your professional and personal lives. MSgt Dudash states, "(As a teacher,) you have touched the life of someone right from the very beginning. That is an awesome feeling in my eyes. I always said 'You're not only a teacher, but you're a mentor as well.' You want their personal growth along with their military growth and job expertise, that's the meat right there. I think every instructor you talk to would think the same, because you're actually instilling discipline; you're actually helping them deal with personal problems. It's not just 'this is your information, you've got a test tomorrow, hope you can make it, I don't care what you've got going on in your off-duty life.' That's not the way we are here. We want to be involved and we want to be a team player. That is what the military is, that's what we pride ourselves in."