Learning, a lifelong task
By Col. David Thompson, 45th Operations Group commander
/ Published August 30, 2006
PATRICK AFB, FL -- What happened to the summer? It seems like Memorial Day was just yesterday and we were looking forward to a few weeks with the kids out of school - working summer jobs, hanging around the house, looking for things to keep them occupied. Summer vacation has come and gone; Labor Day Weekend, the traditional end of the summer, is just around the corner. If you have children in the Brevard County public schools, they've already been back in the classroom for more than two weeks.
Growing up, I remember how those first few days back to school in the fall felt. I was always a little sad the summer was over, that "here we go again" feeling in the back of my mind - studying, tests, term papers. I also remember how I couldn't wait for the annual cycle of school to come to an end, so I could get started with my "real" life, the one where I would get to work on exciting things -- things that really mattered -- and could put all of that "learning" behind me. I was young and very naïve!
I don't recall exactly when the realization hit me, but it wasn't long after I graduated from college.
It hit me like a bolt of lightning-- learning is a lifetime task! For anyone out there who hasn't figured it out yet, the Air Force culture is a culture of continuous learning. Any Airman who doesn't discover that early is destined to start behind his or her peers. The longer it takes to learn that lesson, the further behind the Airman will get.
Everyone who enters the Air Force begins with basic instruction on what it means to be an Airman--proper customs, courtesies and uniform wear, Air Force history and heritage, and countless other things we need to know to succeed in Air Force life. We follow that quickly with basic job training, the skills each one of us needs to fulfill the duties of our respective career fields.
Basic military training and job training lay the foundation and establish a theme for the remainder of one's career--education and training opportunities at key points to enhance our value to the Air Force and prepare us for greater responsibilities. Professional Military Education courses teach us leadership, management and other professional skills so we are ready to serve at higher levels of responsibility. Career field training makes us more effective in jobs that require greater expertise.
The expectation for learning in the Air Force, however, goes beyond PME and career field specific training for individual Airmen. It goes beyond learning in mass programs designed to reach a wide range of Airmen with a common set of objectives.
We also expect our Airmen to pursue learning on their own. Advanced degrees are the norm for our senior leaders, officers and NCOs alike. Directly and indirectly, pursuing and obtaining advanced education will have a bearing on your chances for promotion. That Community College of the Air Force degree plays an important role in senior NCO promotions, and a Masters Degree is once again a strong consideration in promotion to field grade officer ranks.
Beyond the structured path and coursework of PME and job training, each of us needs a program of continued learning that broadens and improves us as individuals, while enhancing our value to the Air Force in important, albeit less tangible ways. It's always best to start your program at the earliest opportunity, but it's never too late to begin.
The Air Force provides ample opportunities and programs to support your learning needs throughout a career. If you're not familiar with some of them, ask your peers and supervisors what they're doing; make it a specific item of discussion in your career counseling sessions; visit the Education Center, where you will discover the courses of study they offer and ways to finance those studies. And I can say from firsthand participation in budget meetings, although times are tight, the Air Force is still committed to funding education programs. Oh yes, our civilian personnel system provides similar career development opportunities and levies the expectation of continuous learning on Air Force civil servants as well.
The Chinese proverb says, "Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere." I say summer's over, it's time to head back to school!