WASHINGTON — Air Force officials announced major changes to the Enlisted Professional Military Education program today via an initiative called Enlisted Professional Military Education for the 21st Century, or EPME 21.
A major initiative of EPME 21 is that time in service will no longer dictate an Airman’s EPME enrollment. Airmen will only be required to complete distance learning courses as a prerequisite to their resident attendance. This initiative is now in effect.
Also, the Air Force will transition to 100 percent resident EPME, allowing all active duty, Guard and reserve Airmen an opportunity to attend Airman Leadership School, the NCO and senior NCO academies prior to promotion.
The changes are a result of the 2017 EPME triennial review, said Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, the chief of Air Force Enlisted Developmental Education at the Pentagon.
“The committee determined changes were needed to the existing EPME structure in order to align EPME with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s policy requiring rank-based educational opportunities,” Bass said. “This also enables all Airmen an opportunity to attend resident PME in order to truly leverage the educational experiences gained from instructors and peers.”
One of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright’s three priorities is leadership — developing Airmen who are ready to lead. One of his objectives in this is to cement EPME changes and infuse agility into Air University processes to improve the ability to provide timely, updated content delivery.
“If this sounds familiar, it should. It was the staple of our EPME for almost 43 years before a recent change to a time-in-service model,” Wright said. “While this model was effective for some, we quickly found it didn’t meet the needs of all our Airmen, causing many NCOs to lose the opportunity to attend in residence at all.”
Rather than requiring Airmen to complete EPME at set times based on how long they’ve been in the Air Force, the new model transitions to a rank-based continuum of learning.
Removing the TIS determination “just makes sense,” Wright said. “We must ensure timely, focused and operationally relevant training and educational solutions at all levels. Providing Airmen with the appropriate PME at the right times in their career is a must. If we deliver it too soon, it’s not effective for where they are in their careers. If we deliver it too late, it’s not effective at all.”
Wright notes that the model provides Airmen greater flexibility and time, allowing them to focus their energies on the mission.
“Commanders, superintendents, first sergeants and supervisors remain central to inspiring a culture of innovation, agility and excellence, while promoting a continuum of learning that spans an Airman’s career,” he said.
Airmen will not be notified from the Air Force Personnel Center or Air University on when to enroll themselves into distance learning, but they must manually enroll themselves.
“This new EPME structure allows Airmen to decide the best timeframe to complete their distance learning,” Bass said. “They will have to complete the distance learning prior to being scheduled for the resident portion, but each Airman now has more flexibility as to when the right time is for them.”
Bass explained that distance learning provides students with basic competency development, and the resident courses allow students to apply what they learned.
“It is necessary to complete both the distance learning and the resident courses to achieve development of the required competencies at the appropriate proficiency levels,” she said. “We expect staff and master sergeants to complete their respective distance learning so when they become technical and senior master sergeants, they are immediately eligible for resident attendance.”
Resident EPME is a promotion requirement — Airman Leadership School, NCO Academy, SNCO Academy and the Chief Leadership Course are required for promotion to E-5, E-7 and E-9, respectively.
Airmen who have previously completed NCO or SNCO distance learning courses under the previous policy and have not attended resident EPME will still receive EPME credit and will not be required to attend the resident portion. Additionally, those currently enrolled in NCO or SNCO distance learning courses may still complete the course and receive credit upon completion or they may withdraw with no adverse actions and reenroll at a later date, prior to attending resident EPME.
“This change clearly sends a signal that our senior leaders value deliberately developing our enlisted corps,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, deputy chief of staff for Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services. “This is a positive move in the right direction as we continue to develop the force and support our Airmen.”
Additionally, EPME 21 will institute a new requirement called Professional Development Unit that will capture diverse education, training and life experiences. This will allow the AF to capture those experiences. Each Airman will complete 24 PDUs per year with one PDU equaling approximately one hour of learning, which equates to three days of development in the span of a year.
Many activities that enlisted Airmen already do will count towards the 24 PDUs. Professional Enhancement Seminars, Senior Enlisted Joint PME, college classes and even earning professional certifications accumulate points. Many Airmen have already attended programs like Profession of Arms Center of Excellence or other major command courses. Additionally, Airmen actively plan and participate in Air Force, Joint and coalition exercises, gaining experience in warfighting activities ranging from aircraft generation, command and control, and force protection. And finally, Airmen deploy and lead both small and large teams across our combatant command areas of responsibility. These all count.