Resiliency Defined for ALS Class 21-6 at Columbus AFB
By 2nd Lt Peyton Craven, 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 28, 2021
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Twenty-Eight Columbus AFB Airmen and two Maxwell AFB Professional Military Education instructors came together on July 23rd to conduct the first in-person Airman Leadership School (ALS) class at Columbus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eight days later, all 28 students, two instructors, and one Public Affairs Officer were quarantined due to a positive COVID case within the class. Perseverance and resiliency are terms that would prove to be the cornerstone for the Airmen of Class 21-6.
ALS is the first tier of Enlisted Professional Military Education (PME) that all Airmen experience as they progress through the ranks during their careers. ALS consists of 169 curriculum hours that span a wide range of topics from Air Force culture and leadership, to problem solving and critical thinking. The course also serves as the precursor to the rank of Staff Sgt., and prepares Airmen for the role and responsibilities of a frontline supervisor.
When the positive COVID case was confirmed, it forced a quick change to instruction and lessons learned during the peak of the 2020 COVID pandemic were put into use.
The class was immediately placed into a 14-day quarantine, and the instructors pivoted to distance learning with instruction that was refined during 2020. Shortly before the quarantine, Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, implemented mandatory mask policies across the Department of Defense to combat the surge in COVID cases.
“Going back to virtual was an easy process, we always have a contingency plan,” said Staff Sgt. Andreus Denmark, 42nd Force Support Squadron, Maxwell AFB, PME instructor.
Senior Airman Anthony Connors from the 14th Force Support Squadron, described what it was like for his class to transition to virtual instruction suddenly.
“It was definitely unfortunate, it sort of put a damper on our cohesiveness, but we were able to push through,” said Connors. “The instructors provided all the resources we needed during virtual time and allowed everyone to have a voice.”
The instructors for Class 21-6 spent the last two years combined instructing in a virtual environment. Their experience provided invaluable knowledge of how to adjust and ensure the course curriculum and schedule was not interrupted..
Staff Sgt. Marcos Sepulveda, Class 21-6’s second ALS instructor also from the 42nd Force Support Squadron at Maxwell AFB, AL spoke on his experience teaching with Denmark in primarily virtual environments prior to Class 21-6.
“The transition back was easy since the students were already used to the virtual equipment. Before this class, Staff Sgt. Denmark and myself mainly taught in virtual environments,” said Sepulveda. “We did face some challenges that come with teaching in the virtual environment, like distractions in the student’s homes, but we adapt and find ways through it.”
The instructors admired Class 21-6’s ability to acclimate to sudden changes. “We have some pretty resilient Airmen and they were easy to work with,” said Denmark.
Connors also spoke on his class returning in-person for the final days of the course. “I think it was a blessing for us to come back together as a class. Being able to bond with everyone made going through ALS a lot easier,” said Connors.
Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Cooper, 14th Flying Training Wing command chief, had a message for the students of the class. “ALS is not a box to be checked, there are expectations for you to be a leader,” said Cooper. “Not only is there an educational aspect to the course, but also a networking element for the students.”
Class 21-6 received their diplomas from Col. Seth Graham, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, August 25th, 2021.
Award winners are as follows:
John Levitow – Senior Airman Jose Guillen
Academic Achievement – Senior Airman Anthony Connors
Commandant – Senior Airman Krystal Darden
Distinguished Graduate – Senior Airman Krystal Darden
Distinguished Graduate – Senior Airman Mikarah McGuire