Iowa Air National Guard Wings leading the way through education

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Duff McFadden
  • 135th MPAD Iowa Army National Guard

When it comes to college educational opportunities among Air National Guard units, Iowa wins hands down. Among the 90 National Guard units recently ranked by the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), based on the number of CCAF degrees awarded by percentage of base populace, Team Iowa scored a one-two punch with Des Moines' 132nd Wing finishing first and Sioux City's 185th Air Refueling Wing second.

Of the 709 enlisted Airmen representing the 132nd Wing, 105 degrees were awarded from the April to October school year, or 14.81 percent of that unit's population. By the same token, the 185th graduated 58 Airmen during that same time frame. With a population of 822 Airmen, that represents 7.06 percent of their enlisted population.

The next closest Guard unit was Memphis, Tenn., who finished with a 6.96 percentage.

On the national level, within the Total Force - comprised of active duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and U.S. Air Force Reserves - the 132nd more than held its own, coming in second only to the active duty, Los Angeles Air Force Base. Los Angeles, home of the Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, hosts a population of 301 Airmen. They received 48 degrees, good for a 15.95 percent of their population and top status in the nation.

The Community College of the Air Force, located at Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Ala., annually awards more than 22,000 associate in applied science degrees from 68 degree programs. The program was recently modified to recognize bases in relation to Air Force-wide totals.

According to Lt. Col. Nathan Leap, commandant of the Community College of the Air Force,

"Our college is a federally-chartered degree-granting institution that serves the United States Air Force's enlisted total force. We partner with over 108 affiliated Air Force schools, 82 Education Service Offices located worldwide, and more than 1,500 civilian academic institutions to serve approximately 300,000 active, guard, and reserve enlisted personnel, making CCAF the world's largest community college system," he said.

The Iowa National Guard's focus on education didn't come about by accident, however.

According to Chief Master Sgt. Tim Cochran, the State Command Chief for the Iowa Air National Guard, Air Force Instruction 36-2502, posted Aug 27, 2015, incorporated changes requiring a CCAF degree for promotion eligibility to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant as of Oct. 1, 2015.

"Documented civilian degrees have historically earned credit towards a CCAF and in some cases satisfied awarding of a CCAF degree," Cochran said. "As Airmen work through this new requirement, there is an interim promotion eligibility waiver process for an equivalent civilian degree. The civilian degree must be loaded into the Military Personnel Data System to be considered for this exception to policy (ETP).

"The Barnes Center is currently building the CCAF 2017 catalog and they expect 85 percent of the currently rejected classes will be credited, meaning civilian degrees at the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science level and higher will satisfy all requirements for CCAF awarding," Cochran said.

Prior to the AFI changes under the "One Air Force" concept, Command Chief Master Sgt. James Hotaling, the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air National Guard, challenged the Airmen of the 132nd in May to be the best Airmen possible in areas such as education and mentoring.

"The Airmen accepted that challenge," said Senior Master Sgt. Gary Burch, the 132nd Force Development supervisor. "Our CCAF graduation rate soared this year thanks to an increase in program awareness, support from Wing leadership, and participation with college programs such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and U.S. Department of Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support Subject Standardized Tests (DSST).  Our leadership was key in identifying a major disconnect between unit member's CCAF status and their civilian college standing.

"In some cases, members didn't realize CCAF didn't have their updated college transcripts. Awarding their CCAF degree was as simple as updating their records. Others found they were only a class or two away from completing their degree requirements," Burch said.

Master Sgt. Lawrence Carda, the 185th ARW CCAF advisor and Force Development Office Superintendent, said this ranking represents the 185th's commitment to their enlisted force, as well as their drive for continued self-improvement of their Airmen along the western edge of the state.

It also represents a three-pronged commitment by the Wing's Airmen.

"Attaining a CCAF degree shows leadership that Airmen are committed to becoming a professional in their career field. Second," he said, "the CCAF degree is required for enlisted Airmen to be promoted to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant and Chief Master Sergeant.

"Thirdly, once Airmen complete their CCAF degree by completing general educational requirements through Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC), along with their technical education through upgrade training and professional military education, they qualify for transfer to bachelor programs at various schools," Carda said.

The CCAF awards an Associate in Applied Science Degree in one of five areas: Aircraft and Missile Maintenance; Allied Health; Electronics and Telecommunications; Logistics and Resources and Public and Support Services.  Students must complete 64 semester credit hours in five core components - Technical Education; Leadership, Management and Military Studies; Physical Education, General Education and Program Electives.

The courses are achieved through a mixture of Air Force-taught accredited technical courses, transfer credit from civilian college courses, college-level examinations and professional certifications. Their associates degree may then be transferred to many colleges/universities in order to pursue a four-year degree through the Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative Program (AU-ABC).

"Our leadership is completely onboard with our Airmen having higher education goals," said Carda. "It shows by them supporting our on-base classes with Western Iowa Tech. CCAF has two graduating classes annually and we have a graduation ceremony every November to recognize those graduates.

"Our wing commander, Col. Christensen, and all the group commanders are present to award each graduate their CCAF diploma," he added.

Carda, who operates the Wing's Education Office with Senior Master Sgt. James Gagner and Staff Sgt. Jaymes Bral, both traditional part-time Guardsmen, said they've been given many excellent tools to help their Airmen complete their educational goals.

"The Air Force Virtual Education Center assists us and our Airman with the ability to track their progress and helps us target folks who are close to finishing their degree. The 185th has also partnered with WITCC to offer CCAF general education classes on-base during the duty day.  This makes it more convenient for members to have a full-time job and pursue their educational goals," Carda said.

During the November awards ceremony, Burch said, "We not only recognized those individuals completing their CCAF degrees, but we also made three special presentations of Air Force Association Pitsenbarger Awards for members who are continuing their education to obtain a Bachelor's degree.  Each award recipient received a certificate and a check for $400 from the Air Force Association.

"It's great to see so many people recognized for their efforts," he said. "From a Wing perspective, I think the focus on education became contagious in a culture that thrives on excellence in all we do."
And it continues to grow and grow, concluded Burch.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we have more than 105 degrees in 2016," he said.

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