ALS: Rediscovering the profession of arms

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — When thinking about Airman Leadership School, what thoughts come to mind?

Many Airmen may think of professional military education as boring, a box to check or a waste of time.

For me, ALS was none of these things.

ALS is a five-week course that prepares senior airmen, new staff sergeants and sister service rank equivalents for official supervisory and rating duties. Attending this leadership school in residence is a requirement for all Airmen either upon successfully testing for promotion or upon reaching 48 months time-in-service.

As a mandated steppingstone, to the uninitiated, the training may come along as just another training requirement on the way to a long-awaited promotion. It turns out it is more than that.

In all honesty, I was apprehensive as I took my first steps into the classroom. Little did I know, my perspective would drastically change in just a few short weeks.

The first few days were a blur. We spent the majority of our time learning the rules, getting a feel for the curriculum and sizing up our classmates. After everything was laid out by the commandant and instructors — it was “game on.”

The 192-hour course, spread across 24 academic days, is divided into three major curriculum areas that support the course objective and focus on developing leadership abilities, building effective communication and the profession of arms. Classes are also required to positively contribute to their local community as well as create a legacy piece to enrich the schoolhouse for future generations of students.

The weeks quickly were consumed with academic work. We participated in group discussions, wrote papers, took written tests, stumbled through public speaking, braved typhoon rains during our community project and, more importantly, bonded as service members and future NCOs.

I learned quite a bit about what is expected of an NCO and leader, while also learning more about how to meet those expectations. Studying leadership traits in our diverse group of Airmen and Sailors helped broaden my perspective when it came to the profession of arms, something I think is vital for today’s leaders to understand and practice.

According to our curriculum, to be part of the military profession of arms is to be a skilled practitioner of, or professional in the art of warfare. The profession of arms is a unique profession, whose customer base spans the sum of our great nation.

After reading the paragraph again, I was shocked to realize I still didn’t fully grasp what this meant. As a public affairs Airman, I took it upon myself to know as much as I can about the Air Force mission, our polices and tenets, so I could better share Airmen’s stories with the rest of the world. However, the true meaning of “the profession of arms” eluded me.

In layman’s terms, the profession of arms is the basic understanding that each member brings his or her own unique skills to the fight. With this definition, it’s a fairly easy concept to understand, but one that may be difficult to communicate.

So much is changing these days. With a new enlisted performance report system, forced distribution and the operations tempo, it’s hard to focus at times. It’s even harder to stay positive and for some, see how our daily efforts fuel the fight.

The 36th Wing’s mission is to provide the president sovereign options to decisively employ airpower across the entire spectrum of engagement. It may be difficult to discern every individual’s contribution to this daunting task.

As reflected in the various occupational badges in our classroom, we all participate in the same fight. Without force support squadron Airmen, for instance, the dining facility and gym wouldn’t open. There would be no one to provide vital combat and community support by delivering superior morale, welfare, recreation, manpower and personnel program services. 

Without the finance flight, we would have to manage our own pay and accounts while continuing our daily tasks. The list of services goes on — and in short, it would quickly overwhelm other career fields to cope with the additional workload.

Having our Navy brothers and sister in the class also provided a comforting reality. This reality is that although we are different services, we all are NCOs, we all have troops in some form or fashion, and we are all leaders.

The joint leadership school experience was neither boring nor a waste of time. Because of our productive class dynamic and our skilled teaching staff, I was able to walk away with a greater understanding of what it takes to be a supervisor in today’s service and rediscovered my place in the profession of arms.

Each and every person plays a vital role in our military and has an impact on our mission. As a photojournalist, I feel blessed to be in the career field that allows me a firsthand look at the Air Force’s missions. 

After ALS, I can’t wait to share how Airman, Sailor, Soldier, Marine and Coast Guardsman’s story in a way that highlights their unique contribution to the security of our nation.

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