MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- It was a commissioning program that sent 14,641 new U.S. Air Force officers into service in the Air National Guard, starting five decades ago. But the program departed the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus in East Tennessee in 2009.
The Officer Preparatory Academy opened in April 1971 as the only commissioning program for officers at an Air National Guard base.
The name changed to the Academy of Military Science in 1973. Among AMS graduates are elected officials, general officers, adjutants general, TEC commanders and deputy commanders, an Olympic diver, and Dean Martin Jr.
At one time, nearly all Air National Guard officers earned a commission through AMS. Officers who received no pre-commissioning training before AMS got offered the Seminar for Direct Commission Officers, which TEC developed and ran from 1976 to 1978. Three hundred officers took that seminar.
"The Air National Guard units commissioned officers either by sending them to the Air Force's commissioning program or by giving them a direct commission," said retired Chief Master Sgt. George Vitzthum, in a scrapbook he gave to Public Affairs.
Chief Vitzthum, who instructed the OPA program in its beginning years, said the problem was that direct-commission officers received no formal training. U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. I.G. Brown, the Director of the Air National Guard, asked the staff to come up with a program.
AMS also built and managed a Ropes Course in 1994 – called the Personal Leadership Challenge Course – at the local YMCA camp on Chilhowee Mountain, which involved a partnership between TEC, YMCA, and the Air National Guard Readiness Center.
"The course was an immediate success regarding facilitating team development, problem-solving skills, confrontation of personal fears, communication skills, and leadership/followership development," said Lt. Col. Samuel Heady, the AMS commandant at that time in an annual history report.
AMS students first traveled to their tactical mobility exercise – a three-day, two-night leadership laboratory – at the Army Guard's John Sevier Range in North Knoxville. They relocated in 1988 to the Catoosa Area Training Center in North Georgia.
The academy commissioned on average 120 new officers per class by 2002, but it rang its last commissioning bell at the graduation of Class O-2009-04. AMS then joined the U.S. Air Force's commissioning program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama to ensure a total force effort and experience.
"AMS is a remarkable mission and success story," said Col. Richard Howard, TEC’s commander during that time, at that closing graduation ceremony. "We've been very innovative."