Lankford EPME Center graduates hundreds of Airmen through virtual classes, ceremony

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – More than 10,000 watched the virtual graduation ceremony of U.S. Air Force Airmen enrolled in virtual in-residence, remote NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School, broadcast live July 13, to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center's Facebook account.

Family, friends, and coworkers used the moment to directly share the Livestream at least 30 times, "like" it more than 100 times, and submit more than 150 positive comments of support and congratulations. A recording is at

"Congratulations to all today's graduates." and "You are the future of the Air Force. Aim High!" and "Yeahhh my baby girl!" and "We are so proud of you." were among the prevailing sentiments.

The 235 students (164 NCOA and 71 ALS) were the first to undertake VIR-R enlisted professional military education through TEC's Lankford EPME Center, a total force unit on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee. The regular Air Force, National Guard, and Reserve Command faculty educate thousands annually. Their efforts provided EPME to Technical Sergeants and Senior Airmen during the global pandemic and its health protection conditions.

Both four-week courses began on June 15. The center built the virtual sessions and teamed with the TEC University division broadcast experts, who brought instructors into the studio to record their lessons. Broadcasters recorded and then edited a total of 68 lessons for both classes, which they will reuse in upcoming virtual courses. Instructors used the mixture of studio work with live online discussion and instruction at their workstations using online meeting apps.

"It provided us with the opportunity to test our organizational agility, innovation, and resilience," said U.S. Air Force Col. Kenneth Lozano, TEC commander, to the students in his recorded congratulatory message. "You and our staff proved that any obstacle could be overcome by a highly engaged group of individuals working as a team."

The commander noted his confidence in the students' abilities to "lead and continue taking on bigger and greater challenges." "I am very proud of your achievement," he said.

TEC-U additionally worked with EPME to provide a one-of-a-kind virtual graduation -- a mix of pre-recorded messages and live studio time.

"Our broadcasters and engineers teamed up with EPME in finding a unique way for students to experience the graduation virtually -- something that was close to the experience they would receive in person," said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, TEC-U Production superintendent. "Putting together the graduation for a virtual class was a first for us, but the expertise we have on this team, along with the outstanding relationship we have with the EPME division, made it a success."

In the 37-minute graduation broadcast, flight instructors introduced themselves and announced their graduates' names. The video displayed a collage of personal photos of the total force Airmen who took the course from their homes and at assignments and units across the world. The featured graduation speaker was U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Paula Shawhan, assigned to the Tennessee Air National Guard. An averaged 350 people remained connected online throughout the live event.

The Commandant, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steven Durrance closed the graduation video by thanking the students and their families for their support, time, and dedication.

"I ask that you continue to engage, bring forth your ideas, and practice the tools that you have learned," said Chief Durrance. "You have enriched us, just as much as we have enriched you with this course."

Lankford EPME Center starts the second installment of virtual EMPE classes on July 20.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Catharine Schmidt contributed to this article.)