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'Crown Jewel' turns 40

MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- The uniforms were Air Force blue, but the symbolism was ruby red at the Training and Education Center's 40th anniversary celebration at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base.

The ruby is the anniversary gemstone believed to possess an eternal inner flame symbolizing a passion still alive and strong after 40 years.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, Air Guard director, and the first faculty members of what is now called the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, attended commemorative events at the air base.

"Today it's referred to as the 'crown jewel' of the Air National Guard," said retired Air Force Col. Edmund Morrisey, commandant of the first Noncommissioned Officer Academy class and the center's first commander, as he referred to the TEC.

The center's first faculty and students started the Air Guard's six-week academy in a gym at McGhee Tyson in July 1968.

The school expanded rapidly and in 1970 added NCO Leadership School -- precursor to today's Airman Leadership School -- and an officer preparatory academy. 

First accredited

The NCO school was the first of its kind to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for credit toward an associate degree. The preparatory academy, today's Academy of Military Science, became the Air Force's fourth commissioning center in 1971.

The Academy of Military Science was the first Air Force commissioning school to fully integrate male and female students into the same classes.

Today the center runs an average of 18 professional military education courses throughout the year. Its flagship schools are the Academy of Military Science, the NCO Academy, which is one of the nation's largest, and the Airman Leadership School, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of all leadership school students in the Air Guard.

In addition, the center holds more than 20 skills enhancement classes in subjects ranging from explosives ordnance disposal to services, recruiting, retention and management. At least 44,000 students have graduated from the center's programs.

Forty-three academy graduates have become general officers, and at least two serve today as state adjutants general. 

Milestone achieved

"It's a huge milestone," said Col. Michael Waggett, TEC commander and the 13th commandant of the Academy of Military Science. "We've had 40 years of building exceptional leaders for the Air Guard ... of excellence in training and education .. of affecting attitudes about the Air Guard in a positive way."

The center held a luncheon attended by "I Guard America" songwriter James Rogers and unveiled a plaque at Wilson Hall on campus during the celebration. The plaque displays a quote from President Bush following 9/11: "We will not waiver, we will not falter, we will not tire and we will not fail."

The TEC has more that 80 staff members including eight civilian personnel. About two-thirds are instructors.

The campus has grown from a gym and barracks inherited from an Air Force fighter squadron to a modern facility with computer classrooms, a library, a fitness center and student housing. The entire campus will soon feature wireless Internet capability.

"In the beginning, we made sure to include in our programs our history and traditions," Morrisey said. "What I see today as I look at the facility is the evolution of the Air National Guard."