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Next Warrior Flyby
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Next Ellsworth Fire Department Live Fire Training

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A mind changed

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The day I found out I was selected for promotion to staff sergeant, I realized something else - I'd have to go to Airman Leadership School soon.

I can honestly say that this was not something that excited me; it was just a hurdle I would have to jump over to get to my next promotion. So for the time being, I put it out of my mind.

It wasn't too long after my promotion notification that I arrived at Ellsworth, where I would soon find out something else about ALS that would add to my reluctance to attend: It is an in-residence course, here.

In-residence! They had to be kidding. Not only did I have to spend six weeks in the course, but I wouldn't even be able to stay at my house while attending. Less-than-enthused would have been an understatement at that point.

Before I knew it, "day zero" arrived, and it was time to in-process. I put my blues on and headed to the school.

I was met by fellow students from all over the base. Introductions proved that I would be exposed to living with 27 very varied personalities, occupations and interests.

So I moved in, along with everyone else, expecting a dry, boring and tedious course. What I got was refreshingly opposite from that, and something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Within the first few days it already became apparent to me that I was far mistaken on my misconceptions of the course. At the risk of being cliché, I think I became a perfect example of the old saying about assuming. 

I found myself in a course that was not only challenging but quite more interesting than I had presumed. The concepts that are taught in ALS are not just facts to brain-dump, but tools for new NCOs to utilize to help themselves become better leaders and supervisors, presented in a manner that promotes the free-flow of open ideas.

As far as those varied personalities, I found that they were what I appreciated most. Hearing different opinions from my peers really showed me how even the smallest of differences in viewpoints can lead to a better, well-balanced educational experience.

The Airmen who expressed these viewpoints turned out to be some of the greatest people I've met in the Air Force so far. ALS provided me an opportunity to meet Airmen from areas of the base that I most likely never would have. Their experiences in the Air Force enriched my understanding of the branch I swore an oath to.

So what about that in-residence thing?

It was absolutely worth it. The camaraderie you are able to achieve through an in-residence course is immeasurable to schools that do not offer it. So often in the military we see only the uniformed side of those whom we serve with. To actually interact in a living environment with my classmates, helped all of us better understand who we are as people.

With my reluctance diminished, I went through the course much more confidently. The Airman I was when the course started and the Airman I was when the course finished, in a professional aspect, were quite different from each other.

I started as someone who wanted to just go through the motions, but, thanks to the Ellsworth ALS instructors and the team around me, I developed a sincere appreciation for professional military education. Because of this, I even graduated a John L. Levitow Honor Graduate. It was truly the highlight of my Air Force career thus far.

After graduating, I looked back amusingly at my original ideas of how the course would be, and how it wound up a stark contrast. The difference was amazing, really. Going back to my work center, I knew that ALS had done its job for me. I came away realizing the importance of the training I had just completed; I came away a better Airman.