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Face of Defense: Chaplain Assistant Gains From Teaching Leadership

By Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Smith, Air National Guard Training and Education Center DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn., March 15, 2016 — Classrooms line the hallways of the enlisted professional military education center in east Tennessee. They’re filled with airmen as Air Force lessons resound through doorways. A look inside shows them sitting in a semicircle, focused on their instructors.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. John McClean, with the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center here, knows their coursework. He teaches it for the service’s Noncommissioned Officers Academy and Airman Leadership School.

McClean said he considers the instructors to be the student’s master link between leadership lessons and how they relate in the Air Force’s shops and offices. Also called flight instructors because their classroom groups are called flights, their main job is to ensure students understand the lessons required to graduate and serve in higher enlisted ranks. Instructors also maintain student records and course materials, administer exams, lead fitness and ceremonial training, and undertake countless other responsibilities.

Speaking From Experience

For McClean, the boundless work of an enlisted leadership instructor is more than just reading the same lesson plans.

“I love hearing people’s stories and experiences and being able to make those connections in class with what we’re teaching,” he said. “It’s one of the driving reasons why I love picking up a new flight and meeting new people.”

The Air Force has five active-duty NCO academy schoolhouses and four enlisted PME centers. More than 80 Airman Leadership Schools operate at various bases.

Lankford Center’s instructors come from many different career fields in the regular Air Force, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command. It is the largest and longest running enlisted PME center in the Air Force, with a staff of 45 that manages thousands of students annually.

McClean said he began teaching as an aircraft maintenance instructor, after years serving as an active-duty F-15 crew chief. He then retrained as a chaplain assistant, he said, so he knows the strength that comes from sharing personal experiences, as well as in listening to them. Like others here, he applied to teach EPME to put himself into classroom mentorship and interaction.

“I really enjoy helping people [and] working with people,” he said.

So far, McClean has used 2,053 hours of instruction to graduate all of his students in 13 flights. Just last year, he mentored seven distinguished graduates and one who earned the John L. Levitow Award -- the Air Force’s top enlisted PME honor.

Recognition Among Those Recognized

McClean is the campus’s reigning Outstanding NCO of the Year. He and his wife and family are looking forward to his April 1 promotion to master sergeant, the first senior noncommissioned officer rank, he said.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Paula Shawhan, an Air National Guard aerospace medical service technician assigned here as director of education, said McClean’s recognition can be considered still more impressive than most Air Force units, considering that the staff here is screened and selected from a pool of top applicants across the Air Force. He noted that McClean has seven college degrees, including two master’s degrees, as well as many professional certifications.

“Our instructors are among the very best enlisted airmen, because those are the NCOs and senior NCOs we want instructing and sharing experiences,” Shawhan said. “So, McClean is a performer among that group.”

Shawhan, who is also trained as an enlisted PME instructor, said the work is not easy, even for those who enjoy it, but helping others succeed and perhaps receive their promotions is rewarding.

"The favorite part of my job is being able to serve as a witness and contributor in an Airman's journey; this includes both students and faculty,” he said. “I’m honored to be part of Tech. Sergeant McClean's Air Force story.”