Story by Maj. Micky Fisher, Wyoming Air National Guard Public Affairs
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Air National Guard sends several officers to various professional development opportunities each year. Among those opportunities is Professional Military Education (PME). PME is part of a developmental system that helps prepare officers from all services for command and staff work in a joint context. “A primary part of our Wyoming mission is to provide ready and professional personnel and formations capable of winning the fight. To do this, we need to invest in our leaders and provide them with training to improve their ability to think critically and operate strategically, all of which PME offers,” said Brig. Gen. Michelle Mulberry, Chief of Staff of the Wyoming Air National Guard.
Recently, we had our very own Lt. Col. Wendy Allison return from her year-long assignment to Air War College (AWC) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. While anyone can take 30 seconds to learn the overarching details of PME online, we figured it’d be nice to speak with Allison and get her honest take on the entire experience. As members of the Air National Guard, we are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities at once, so when in-residence opportunities like AWC pop up, we are often left making the tough decision to temporarily leave or uproot our family, say farewell to friends and put our full-time civilian positions on pause. Allison did what many service members do: she and her son uprooted from Cheyenne and went to Alabama for the year-long school. Although it was a tough decision, she is pleased to have made that call. For her, Air War College was a fantastic experience that offered invaluable tools that will aid her throughout the rest of her life.
Most Valuable Takeaways
The Air War College curriculum boasts courses that help officers think critically and strategically, all while considering a holistic approach from a joint operational lens. Course topics range from Foundations of Strategy to Regional Security Studies, Strategic Leadership to Future Air, Space, and Cyberpower. While there, Allison honed her leadership skills through her studies but more so through her daily interactions with classmates. The diverse team dynamic made this experience so profound and memorable for Allison. For instance, everyone who attends AWC will get the opportunity to travel to various parts of the world for two weeks to experience the political, military, economic, and cultural aspects of the different geographic combatant commands. Students visited five continents and were hosted by partner nations. Allison volunteered to stay in the U.S. and host the International Fellows on their trip around the continental U.S.
“My group visited Colorado, Nevada, and Texas,” said Allison. “The best part of this trip was spending time with people from 21 different countries, hearing about their struggles, and learning about things they are doing that the U.S. could learn from.”
Transitioning back into an academic environment can be challenging. According to Allison, “the school does a good job of easing students back into academia, and there are many resources to help. It’s a lot of work, but it was worth it.” Another great experience stemmed from participating in a Research Task Force. These were groups assembled to focus research efforts on specific, pre-identified topics. Several were offered in lieu of writing a personal research paper or attending a different elective.
“I was part of the Resiliency Task Force where we took a deep dive look at Air Force resiliency efforts from the ‘spectrum of resilience’ including mind, body, social, and spiritual health,” said Allison. “It was a very interesting program, and we all got to brief our research papers to General Minihan, the Commander of Air Mobility Command.”
Allison’s paper looked at wolf packs as a model of building belonging up, down, and laterally in the chain of command. Her paper won the Professional Development Award for the academic year 2023 for Air War College.
In-Residence vs. Distance Learning
This question runs deep for many drill-status guardsmen across the nation. Leaving family and friends behind is often the primary reluctance, but leaving full-time employers for a year is also a tough pill to swallow. Although Allison shared some of these initial reluctances, she ultimately came away with a new appreciation for in-residence PME.
“We get the opportunity to just focus on school rather than trying to juggle family, life, work, and school like with distance learning PME,” said Allison.
“The best part of being in-residence is the people we meet. Each seminar is intentionally built to have a diverse group of people from diverse backgrounds. I learned so much this year from my classmates. As a guardsman, and especially as a drill-status guardsman, there are elements of the Air Force we are never exposed to or have limited exposure to, and being in-residence, we get a much broader exposure to the Air Force and Department of Defense. At the same time, I get to tell the Guard story and expose my active-duty classmates to things they’ve never considered.”
PME offers tremendous value to servicemembers within their military roles, but its impact on civilian employment is equally important to consider. Civilian employers will benefit significantly from the added experience, training, and overall strategic understanding developed at school. So, instead of being seen as a long-term absence from your civilian job, it should be considered a fantastic development opportunity that will yield positive second and third-order effects within the organization for years to come.
What Helped Along the Way
Throughout the year, Allison felt supported by her family, friends, and supervisors back home. “The faculty at AWC was especially awesome because I’ve never been around so many humble yet brilliant people,” she said. “My assigned faculty were never arrogant or belittling. If we had family or health issues, they worked with us. It was a very positive environment.” It was essential to sustain a steady work-life balance throughout school, which required her to be deliberate with her time, Allison added.
“Towards the end of school, I found a horse rescue organization and spent time caring for the horses and helping with riding lessons and trail rides. I wish I had found them earlier in the year. It was a great ‘brain break’ from all the studying.”
In-residence PME is hard, but it becomes your primary job. To Allison, the entire experience was all worth it in the end.
“As Citizen Airmen, we must split our lives to serve; being in residence gives us a break from that. A year seems like a long time, but this year flew by for me. The people we connect with at in-residence PME will keep popping back into our lives and serve as good connections moving forward, aiding our ability to accomplish the mission.”
For more information on PME, please visit Global College of PME (af.edu).