Exchange program NCO strengthens European partnership

Being stationed overseas comes with its own set of unique challenges, but for one U.S. Air Force noncommissioned officer, a three-year assignment teaching at the German NCO Academy, on Marseille Kaserne, Appen, Germany, has been a challenge like no other. Yet, he embraces it with open arms.

Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Villasenor is one of only three enlisted members in Europe serving under the U.S. Air Force Military Personnel Exchange Program. After undergoing eight months of language training, and 11 weeks of enlisted professional military instructor training, for both the U.S. Air Force and German air force, he is now a certified instructor at the German NCOA. He is the sole American, teaching alongside the German cadre in their native tongue.

“I’m very humbled and glad to have this position,” said Villasenor. “This is an experience like no other in the Air Force.”

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Villasenor, German NCO Academy instructor, discusses a game plan with fellow instructors, German air force Hauptfeldwebel Simon Kozikar, left, and Hauptfeldwebel Jan Weber, right, before completing an obstacle within the Inter-European Air Forces Academy Project X course Sept. 24 at Kapaun Air Station. Villasenor teaches at the German NCOA as part of the U.S. Air Force Military Personnel Exchange Program. He and his German counterparts visit with the Kapaun U.S. Air Force professional military education instructors annually to share ideas and strengthen their partnership.

Now roughly three months into the job, the 11-year U.S. Air Force security forces veteran said he has come a long way from his first time instructing three weeks into the assignment.

“The first briefing I had to give was a three-hour presentation to senior NCO academy students on the U.S. Air Force enlisted corps, and I did it in just two hours based on my limited vocabulary,” he recalled. “I remember some of the student feedback was that my vocabulary wasn’t good enough. The experience was very humbling.”

Villasenor let the criticism fuel his quest to improve, making vocabulary binders that he studies every morning, reading and listening to the German news every day, and seeking help from his German wife as well as teammates and students (which he can only talk to in German at the schoolhouse).

“Being an exchange NCO is a big challenge because there are no exceptions, they have to perform purely in German to our standards,” said Oberstleutnant Felix Leendertz, 1st Lehrgruppe group commander. “Sergeant Villasenor does a very great job, and I am happy to have him at the NCO Academy. It’s important for all young students to see our multinational ties and our friendship, especially our friendship to the U.S. Air Force, and nothing else is as authentic as having a U.S. NCO at our school teaching and being fully integrated in our squadron.”

At the schoolhouse, Villasenor primarily teaches formaldienst (dress and appearance and marching), physical training, security forces-centered training and the U.S. Air Force enlisted corps class. He will also be a certified shooting instructor once he attends the German Shooting Instructor course next month.

“It is unique for our new students to come in and have their instructor be an American Airman,” said Stabsfeldwebel Thomas Schade, 3rd Inspection first sergeant, noting the students’ looks of amazement when they hear Villasenor teaching in German. “The motivation he brings to all the students to serve for the country is amazing.”

This summer will mark 25 years of partnership between the U.S. Air Force and German air force through Villasenor’s position in the MPEP. The German NCOA relationship extends to the U.S. Air Force Kisling NCOA and Airman Leadership School, Kapaun Air Station, and the Inter-European Air Forces Academy, Ramstein Air Base, as the schools have been conducting annual gatherings since the inception of the position.

Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Villasenor, German NCO Academy instructor, stationed at Marseille Kaserne, Appen, Germany, is one of only three enlisted members in Europe serving under the U.S. Air Force Military Personnel Exchange Program. 
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice

“The relationship predates any instructor’s tenure at either academy, but is still supported and going strong after 24 years,” said Chief Master Sgt. Terrance Smiley, Kisling NCOA commandant.

Airmen from the U.S. Air Force schoolhouses visit the German NCOA twice a year meeting with their instructors, guest speaking in their classrooms and participating in their annual shooting competition. In turn, members from the German NCOA attend the U.S. Air Force Ball at Ramstein each year and visit the U.S. schoolhouses.

“Sergeant Villasenor’s position is a linchpin to our whole relationship,” said Smiley. “He has the means to reach out to us and be the conduit between the schools. Without his position, we run the risk of falling into the relationship status where you only send cards or social media likes.”

“He’s a forward leaning NCO and is making a real difference as an ambassador for the U.S. Air Force,” he continued. “Because of that position, our two schoolhouses are, and will continue to remain more than partners, but also friends.”

In addition, to the international relationships being strengthened in Germany through Villasenor’s position in the MPEP, the same is happening at the U.S. Air Force Senior NCO Academy, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., with a German instructor teaching there.

“The most basic definition of the program rests in the main word of its title, that is the word ‘exchange,’ said Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer DiBello, MPEP Europe superintendent. “Villasenor’s equivalent is part of the German Air Force, but teaches U.S. Air Force PME to our U.S. Air Force students and is a valued member of the instructor staff.”

There are approximately 64 exchange officers and three enlisted members as well as 14 exchange students serving under the MPEP Europe, each embedded and working alongside their host nation counterparts for a typical overseas tour length. Students in the program attend the host nation’s PME versus attending the U.S. Air Force versions. Airmen are serving in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Jordan, Poland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

“These positions are made for Airmen who are looking to really press the bounds of what they can offer the Air Force, and what they receive in return is a priceless opportunity to really impact global partnerships,” said DiBello. “Sergeant Villasenor and our other exchange officers are out there every day showcasing why U.S. Air Force Airmen are so great at what they do, and they are building our partnerships through their actions and examples.”

DiBello noted Villasenor’s praises in a recent visit by his leadership to Ramstein AB.

“We knew he was sharp, but the German commander confirmed this and highlighted the unique mixture of intelligence, resilience and humility that Sergeant Villasenor possesses and ultimately why that makes him a great fit for this unique position.”

Villasenor, who was stationed in Germany as a security forces Airman at Ramstein AB from 2009-2012, said he would have never fathomed he would be serving in such a unique position back then.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago, as I was sitting on post guarding U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters that I would be back here in Germany serving as an instructor in their NCO Academy, representing the U.S. Air Force, I would never have believed it,” he said. “For many of the students, I’m the only American military member they have or will ever interact with. It’s an honor to serve in this capacity and I’m looking forward to strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.”