Columbus ALS graduates Class 17-6


Columbus Air Force Base graduated 16 Airmen from Airman Leadership School Class 17-6 here Aug. 24.


Four Airmen earned awards at the graduation following the five-week course.


The award winners are:


Levitow Award: Senior Airman Jason Rodriguez, 14th Communications Squadron

Distinguished Graduate Award & Commandant Award: Staff Sgt. Jason Stavros, 14th Operations Support Squadron

Academic Award: Senior Airman Carl Ledford, 14th OSS 

Sharp Image Award: Senior Airman Raul Pena, 14th Medical Support Squadron

Chief Master Sgt. Brad Reilly, 14th Operations Group Superintendent, spoke at the graduation. A few days before the event, he gave the class a Scottish Claymore sword and asked them two things: that the sword be displayed in plain sight during the graduation, and that if he forgot to mention the sword during his speech, someone from the class reminded him of it.

True to their word, several students spoke up when Reilly gave a short, perfunctory graduation speech and then began to sit down.

“Oh, did you guys want to hear about this sword? Okay, I might have a good story,” Reilly said.

He explained how every civilization in history produced swords similar to his in order to accomplish their strategic goals. His sword is a Scottish Claymore sword of a style dating back to the 13th century. The Claymore was a two-handed sword that had a long reach and heavy weight, making it extremely difficult for opponents to get near the wielder.

“This is a cool sword, but it’s not necessarily the sword that is important tonight, it’s the process,” Reilly said. “The process of creating something this strong and this powerful is challenging.  But it was so important to get it right.” 


He explained that creating the sword took the work of many craftsmen to produce the quality required to survive battle. The first step was finding the right raw materials, which was done by miners and gatherers.


Then the ironmaster would forge the steel by melting the iron, pouring it into a mold, hammering it and cooling it, then repeating the process several times. This was called work-hardening, and ensured the sword could endure combat.


The next step was grinding, which was turning the sword from a rudimentary form into a perfectly balanced fighting instrument. Then the sword was hilted to give it a firm grip, and then sharpened for the first time, though sharpening was required throughout the blade’s service to keep it battle ready.

Reilly then explained what the sword and sword making represented to him.

“Today, the unquestionable king of battle is American airpower,” he said. “On the battlefield, our American airpower is awesome. It exudes dominance and power.”

“Like the Claymore, the powerful weight and reach of our airpower makes it very difficult for the enemy to close with our forces on the ground,” he said. “But it’s not necessarily airpower that is so important to understand tonight, it’s the process. The process of making such an Air Force. The process of creating something this strong and this powerful is challenging. But it is so important to get it right.”

Reilly said it takes an incredible amount of skill and energy to produce an Air Force, and it all starts with a single Airman.

“Leaders know that only a well-crafted Airman will endure the most strenuous of conditions and ensure victory on the battlefield,” he said. “Achieving that as supervisors is your responsibility, your due diligence, to the man you will send to the pointy end of the sword.”

He then likened the process of sword-making into building a great Airman: finding the right raw material, work-hardening, grinding for balance, giving it a firm grip for trustworthiness, and constant sharpening.

In closing, Reilly asked the class what kind of Airmen they will produce.

“When you put your craftsman stamp on your work, what will it mean?” he said. “Are you are ready? Are you made of the right materials? Are you balanced in your leadership and life? Are you firm and trustworthy enough to wield the Air Force’s greatest asset into harm’s way? Are you sharp, and willing to remain sharp and relevant throughout your career?"

“The Air Force believes you are ready,” Reilly continued, “and everyone here tonight has the greatest faith in your abilities. Never forget, so much rests on your shoulders as you assume responsibility for those Airmen. Literally, the future of the enlisted force is in your hands. Craft them well.”

ALS is a professional military education course that develops senior airmen into effective frontline supervisors. Instructors travel to Columbus AFB from Maxwell AFB, Alabama, twice a year to hold the course, saving the Air Force substantial travel dollars.

During the course, the Airmen also participate in several public events including a retreat ceremony, volleyball game and fun run. They are also treated by the Military Affairs Committee and the local chapter of the Air Force Association to a picnic at an off-base recreational facility to help introduce the Airmen to a part of the community they may have yet to visit.