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Base holds first NCO seminar

By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (Aug. 25, 2000) -- Staff sergeants from Misawa Air Base recently completed the first run of the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Seminar.

The three-day seminar, taught entirely by volunteer senior noncommissioned officers, is the first of its kind at Misawa AB.

"Chief Finklea, along with other senior noncommissioned officers, felt the junior tier of NCOs needed some instruction during that time between Airman Leadership School and the NCO Academy," said Master Sgt. Herbert L. Shirlee, program director of the NCO Professional Development Seminar. "What we found is there are a lot of staff sergeants on base who haven't attended a professional military education course in maybe ten years. This is a stepping stone to bridge that gap between PME courses."

According to Shirlee, the seminar is meant as a PME refresher course. "We offer instruction on NCO responsibilities, leadership, mentorship, counseling, conducting feedback, and writing EPRs," said Shirlee. "In most of the feedback from this first course, the students say they learned a lot from just interacting with the instructors. They learned a lot dealing with each other as well."

Because the seminar is less structured than ALS, staff sergeants from around the base had the time and forum to freely discuss supervisory issues unique to their situations.

"We could communicate, the seminar was very informal," said Staff Sgt. Robert Jett, a recent attendee of the seminar. "There was the ability to communicate with each other. If some other sergeant would disagree with somebody, he could raise his hand and make his point. The senior noncommissioned officers would guide us with how they would do things."

A relaxed academic environment was part of the plan for the seminar, designed to allow the free flow of information and ideas, without a fear of getting in trouble.

"I've encouraged academic freedom and non-attribution," said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Finklea, 35th Fighter Wing, command chief. "Statements, disagreements, and other comments made during the course will be safeguarded through the practice of non-attribution, though it must be tempered by good judgment."

NCOs who attended the seemed positive about the seminar.

"What I liked were the different ideas from different instructors, and getting to know different staff sergeants out there," said Staff Sgt. Ivy Bell, 35h Mission Support Squadron, a two-year staff sergeant. "We were able with talk to each other, and they didn't hinder us or stop us."

"I'm still a young supervisor," said Bell. "I can give my subordinates more now that I have taken the refresher course. The more I learn the better I will be."

For one staff sergeant, attending the seminar even helped him reconsider his plans to separate from the Air Force.

"The economy was pretty strong and I was going to get out try to better myself," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Mercedo, 35th Security Forces Squadron.

"The class [instructors] were mostly senior leaders and they told us what the Air Force was going to be in the future and how staff sergeants will have a greater responsibility with new airmen coming in, and with retention," said Mercedo. "Seeing how much the Air Force had done for me, I [chose] to stay in."

According to Shirlee, participation in the seminar is voluntary, though it is highly encouraged, and first sergeants will generally contact those who are eligible to attend the seminar. The next Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Course will be held September 11-13.