Historic grads: WR-ALC civilians firsts for Robins ALS

  • Published
  • By Tim Kurtz
  • WR-ALC Management Operations

Two Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex members made history Feb. 10 as the first civilians to graduate from Airman Leadership School at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

Neil Grimsley, 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group, and Melissa Rice, 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group, were among the 23 graduates of Class 22B of the Staff Sgt. Felicia R. Rivers Airman Leadership School. They lead the way in a historic school year that will see 11 Robins civilians attend ALS, four more of which are from the WR-ALC work force.

Master Sgt. Shane Flot, 78th Force Support Squadron commandant of the Robins ALS which teaches more than 200 students per year, said other ALS locations across the Air Force have integrated civilians into the program. However, this was the first class Robins AFB that has done so.

“It definitely is exciting to have our first two civilian graduates for Robins AFB ALS,” Flot said. “Despite all of the restrictions and hurdles with COVID-19, this achievement to integrate civilians into our leadership course has provided a sense of hope for our future.”

The Air Force ALS mission statement declares the school’s aim is to “Prepare Airmen to be professional, warfighting Airmen who can supervise and lead Air Force work teams in the employment of air, space, and cyberspace power!”

Air University’s website states, “ALS is the first level of professional military education enlisted Airmen experience. It is designed to be an entry level leadership enhancement course to prepare senior Airmen for positions of greater responsibility by strengthening their ability to lead, follow, and manage while also gaining a broader understanding of the military profession and their role within the Air and Space Forces.”

Believing in the benefits the school offers, Brig. Gen. Jennifer Hammerstedt, WR-ALC commander, is an enthusiastic supporter of getting civilians into ALS. Complex leadership worked with the 78th Air Base Wing to make it happen, and the general took part in the historic graduation.

“Neil and Melissa are perfect examples of why giving civilians this educational opportunity is so worthwhile,” Hammerstedt said. “They saw the value of taking part in military professional education and eagerly enrolled. Now, having completed the course work, they know what they’ve learned will make them a better teammate, worker and leader for our complex and our mission. It was great to see they are gratified with their achievement, fired up, and ready to get after it. I’m proud of them, and excited that they and more Robins civilians after them want to take such an advanced step.”

Both Rice and Grimsley feel ALS was a priceless educational experience.

Rice is a production support supervisor for the 563rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. She is responsible for tools and equipment for the 563rd, ensuring serviceability and inspection requirements are up to date along with consumable items for mechanics on a day-to-day basis. She has been at Robins for 11 years – six years as a contractor and five years in civil service.

Grimsley is an electronics engineer for the 402nd EMXG, providing engineering support for the 567th, 568th and 569th Electronics Maintenance Squadrons. He has been in civil service since May 2017, when he started an engineering internship.

Although ALS was traditionally only available to enlisted personnel, Grimsley was glad for the chance to attend. He viewed it as “a great opportunity to develop better leadership and communication skills.”

Rice’s upbringing instructed her decision to enroll.

“I was inspired by my father who was a prior service member and attended this training over 30 years ago,” Rice said. “He told me how it helped him become a better leader and how he learned a lot from this course. When I heard that civil service could now apply, I wanted to jump at the opportunity. As a civil service supervisor, I don’t think we get enough effective training or courses to help us become great leaders, so I wanted to learn from the military side and apply this great experience and knowledge to the civil service side to be a better leader.”

Fresh off ALS completion, both graduates are certain they got just what they signed up for.

“I gained the knowledge of leadership tools and techniques on how to communicate with employees and upper management, how to work with others and deal with difficult situations, and what tools are in a leader’s tool box to apply in each situation,” Rice said. “I have gained a better understanding of what it takes to become a good leader and how military leaders run operations by making decisions. We may not agree with the decision at the time, but they are for the better.

“I also learned that, as a leader, sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, and we need to own them,” Rice said. “If we made a wrong decision, we need to take responsibility for them and when the mission is successful to praise the team.”

“I feel that I gained invaluable skills and experiences through the ALS curriculum and shared time with the enlisted graduates,” Grimsley said. “The ALS instruction provided me with a better understanding of what it means to be an Airman, a wingman and an Air Force professional. Working closely with my enlisted classmates provided me with a better understanding of military operations and structure.”

Neither of the civilian grads felt like fish out of water while in classrooms surrounded by military personnel. In fact, they felt reassured that their military counterparts gained from their presence in the class.

“I was nervous about being in a mostly enlisted class, but they were very welcoming,” Grimsley said. “From our open feedback sessions, I could see that the different perspective and experiences I brought to the class were valued.”

“Because I was the only civil service employee in my (flight), I was definitely outnumbered,” Rice said. “After several days in the class I had several military members tell me that I have changed the way they view civil service employees, and they wished they had dealt with more civil service employees in their career. They stated they had no idea what jobs we provide to the military and the experience and knowledge that we have in our specialized careers.

“As military members, they have a hard time with retaining experience levels because of members deploying or leaving for other duty stations,” she continued. “But as civil service employees, we tend to stay and keep the knowledge and experience that is needed. They felt that we should work more closely together to better understand how each side of service has a common mission in the defense of this country.”

“We may wear different uniforms, but we both fight the same fight,” Rice said. “This experience has definitely driven home the point to why my job is important, because I get to see how my job impacts the warfighter and mission capabilities.”

Flot also emphasized the vast benefits of ALS being a shared educational experience between civilian and uniformed Airmen.

“I believe that it was beneficial to have the input from the civilians throughout the course and to show a sense of unity across the installation as they are frontline supervisors, as well,” he said. “Additionally, I think the civilians gained a better understanding and respect for their military counterparts.”

The commandant also said the civilian students’ military counterparts gained from the civilians’ presence in the class.

“I feel that our military students accepted them as part of their family. There was a sense of pride and respect for the civilians within the flight and the class definitely was happy that they were part of their journey. I believe the civilian perspective was an invaluable asset for our military students to gain knowledge and understanding for their professional growth,” Flot said.

Given their experience, Grimsley and Rice strongly endorse civilian attendance to ALS.

“I would highly recommend ALS to other Air Force civilians,” Grimsley said. “The school provided me with experiences that will, one day, make me a better supervisor. It also provided me with a greater understanding of the Air Force mission, what role we play as Air Force civilians in supporting that mission, and the outstanding Airman serving our nation.”

 “As civil service employees, we do not get a lot of interaction with military members and their training,” Rice said. “This course definitely aids in building the comradery between each other to see how each person has a critical part in the overall mission. This course teaches different techniques that we normally wouldn’t get as a civil service employee and definitely adds knowledge to my tool belt to become a better leader and teammate.

“I feel that this course restores purpose in civil service employees, because we don’t often get daily reminders of the Air Force core values and how each of our jobs have an impact on military members who rely on our ability to do the job so they can execute their job in an active environment,” Rice said.

Neither Rice nor Grimsley were aware they’d be the first Robins civilians to graduate from ALS, but both were proud of the achievement and thankful for the chance.

“I was not aware that I would be the first civil service employee,” Rice said, “but I feel honored and appreciate and thank all the people that allowed me the opportunity. I just want to thank the Air Force for opening this training opportunity up to civil service employees because this class teaches more things than how to become a better leader. It teaches how to be a better human being inside and outside the gates of a military installation.”

The four other WR-ALC civilian Airmen selected to attend ALS in fiscal 2022 are: Jacqueline Ashby, 402nd AMXG; Shelby Sheppard, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group; Lane Letson, 402nd Software Engineering Group; and Ryan Arflin, WR-ALC.

Rounding out the list of Robins civilians selected for ALS this year were: Matthew Avery and Toni Hicks, 78th Civil Engineer Group; James Bush, Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command; Kimberly Danjou, 78th ABW; and Hiep Nguyen, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

For civilian employees interested in future ALS classes, an announcement is normally posted for applications after the year’s class schedule has been forecasted during the summer. Flot said the 78th FSS director and senior enlisted leader ensure the announcement is disseminated throughout the proper wing points of contact. The deadline for applications is included in the announcement so packages can be reviewed.

Civilians are selected based on the qualification criteria. Civilians are provided class dates to rank for their best availability within their application, and the commandant ensures they are properly slotted for upcoming classes after they are selected to attend ALS.

“I hope we can continue our path forward and ensure support for all of our partners, civilian and military. We want to instill a legacy of diversity and inclusion as we strive to provide the best ALS experience in the Air Force,” Flot said.