For many new Airmen, completing upgrade training within their career field can feel like an uphill battle. There are career development courses and on-the-job training to complete, all while keeping up with the day-to-day demands of their job.
The 721st Aerial Port Squadron has devised a solution through their Unit Learning Center for new 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing Airmen in their career field to complete 5-level training, the next level after graduating from technical school, in a timely manner.
“We’re the only station that does it this way for our 5-level upgrade training, and we offer it to the entire wing,” said Staff Sgt. Jacquelyn Alvarez, 721 APS NCO in charge of the Unit Learning Center. “It’s unique in that we bring everyone here to do it at Ramstein. It’s nice to get them involved in the Air Force culture as well as the culture of the career field to teach them how to go about talking to fellow porters.”
The center provides a three-week class covering passenger services, air freight, and ramp services for Airmen who have been on station for about six months at Ramstein; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England; and Aviano Air Base, Italy.
“It helps them focus on those core tasks a lot better,” Alvarez said. “Sometimes due to mission they can get lost, and the timeline of their upgrade training takes a little longer. It also gives that hands-on aspect, and one of my rules is, ‘no question is a dumb question,’ so they can ask those questions versus going straight into the workforce.”
Due to the heavy flow of cargo and aircraft through Ramstein, the 721 APS is able to provide facilities and hands-on training with aircraft for porters located at smaller bases without the same resources.
“My first duty station is Mildenhall, so it’s a smaller base, which I do like a lot, but sometimes you have to rely on your fellow Airmen to teach you and they are just as new as you,” said Airman 1st Class Katherine Murray, 727th Air Mobility Squadron air transportation technician and student of the course. “So coming here has actually been really awesome. I can go back to Mildenhall and I’ll feel a lot better about my position.”
The three sections of the course are each taught for one week, starting in the classroom to cover regulations and Air Force instructions, and ending with hands-on training in the passenger terminal or on an aircraft.
“I think doing the passenger terminal first, then cargo, and then ramp, it’s literally one big picture, and you get to see the full 360 degrees of all the operations,” said Murray. “Behind the scenes when you see all the different parts of the process, it’s really neat.”
Many Airmen in the aerial port career field work in only one of the three sections taught at the center, but learning every section helps the students gain a better understanding of how their job interconnects with others.
“The center is important because when they do return to their section, they have a wider knowledge of the career field itself,” Alvarez said. “It’s very broad, basic knowledge, but it’s at least something versus an Airman not knowing how their piece of the puzzle works with the other sections.
“It’s always interesting bringing in new Airmen,” she continued. “It’s neat to see the dots start to connect and watch them get that spark and say, ‘Oh, I get what my buddies are doing and how it affects me.’”
Helping fresh, new Airmen become excited about their career field and being in the Air Force is part of why Alvarez enjoys teaching the class, she said.
“Staff Sgt. Alvarez is a great instructor, and I just really enjoyed this course a lot,” Murray said. “I think this class has helped me by far over anything else I’ve been taught.”
When the mission comes first, upgrade training can sometimes end up on the back burner. With the Unit Learning Center, the 721 APS provides a unique learning environment for new Airmen to complete their training in a short time and learn new skills within their career field.