Education center reflects on 50 years: Part Two – Building on success

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

In honor of a half-century of learning, this feature series highlights the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, from its first classes in a World War II-era aircraft hangar to the present day.

How did the Air Guard set its education bar higher from the previous decade? Part Two looks back at 1978 to 1988.

The Professional Military Education Center developed four significant schools for Air Force and Air Guard officers and Airmen in the last decade. It would mark the next decade through new leadership, new courses, and new infrastructure.

As the schoolhouse grew, duty titles changed for Col. Edmund C. Morrisey and Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford, historians said. Colonel Morrisey became PMEC commander. Chief Lankford took charge as the academy’s first enlisted Commandant, after serving as Deputy Commandant for seven years.

Creditability standing

PMEC began 1979 with an award: The Jimmy Doolittle Fellow, given by the Air Force Association.

Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the first World War II air strike over Japan, helped present the award to Colonel Morrisey at the January AFA convention in Washington. Along with him was Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater.

Colonel Morrisey must have realized his staff’s premier status by that time, as PMEC had also earned three Air Force Organizational Excellence Awards, among other citations.

“If there was an award to submit for, we applied to it,” Colonel Morrisey said. “We wanted good publicity.”

PMEC staff now held the reputation as experts in education - they traveled and briefed Air Guard units on personal development and PMEC’s programs, records show. Military functions requested them regularly as key-note speakers.

Evolution management

The staff had grown considerably, from about 10 personnel in 1968 to nearly 40 personnel in 1980. Morrisey and Lankford worked with the Air Guard Director for a PMEC advisory board of eight leaders in military, education, business, industry, the professions, and public service.

“We recommended that, cause that’s who we worked for,” Colonel Morrisey said. He added that he also requested operational inspectors from outside the organization. The actions helped increase buy-in and perspective from the field, which further strengthened their creditability.

PMEC became a direct reporting unit of the Air Guard Support Center Oct. 1, 1982, as Detachment 10, historians said.

Despite all that success and experience, PMEC made hiring changes as a detachment by transitioning fulltime instructors and administrative personnel from government technicians to active duty Air Guard manning. Those ineligible for active status retained their jobs until retirement.

Records also show that curriculum underwent a major rewrite in 1980 for NCO academy, after an Air Force study on NCO education needs. Growing requests for enlisted PME became evident in the number of classes held.

At the beginning of the decade, PMEC offered four leadership school classes, four NCO academy classes and six Academy of Military Science officer classes in a fiscal year for nearly 1,300 students, according to the course catalog. That following year it increased courses to six leadership schools, eight NCO academies, and six AMS graduations for 1,670 students.

PMEC accreditation may have also contributed to professional military education's attractiveness.

NCO academy students earned one Community College of the Air Force credit in World Affairs and for General Military Studies. They also received two credit hours in Managerial Communications and three credit hours in Human Resources Management. Leadership school students earned one credit each in Introduction to World Affairs, Introduction to Military Studies, Managerial Communication, and Introduction to Human Resources Management.

“Those students who have graduated from both leadership school and NCO academy were eligible for a total of 10 semester hours,” stated the PMEC catalog.

The Academy of Military Science also increased graduates in 1979 from 300 to 480 new officers per year. It estimated that 15 percent of all Air Guard officers were now AMS graduates, and it had become “the most significant source of new officers in the Air Guard.”

Candidates’ curriculum included 268 hours of study in military training, professional development, communicative skills, leadership, Air Force/Air Guard structure, and commandant’s time. AMS’s commissioned staff now included a commandant, senior training officers, and faculty advisors.

The Office for Air Guard History was located on campus in 1979, after its establishment in 1977. Lt. Col. James Delaney served as the chief historian, along with an archivist and an administrative technician. They provided archival and historical services and conducted workshops for the field.

Community, camaraderie

Students’ activities were also pressing into off-duty events and the community.

“Students of all PMEC schools get involved with the community service activities, carrying back to their home units the message that a Guardmember is both an asset to his civilian community and the Total Force,” stated the 1981 curriculum catalog.

Early classes painted and wintered facilities for the Blount County Center of the Handicapped. They also built playground equipment for local schools, escorted disadvantaged youngsters on base tours, to skating parties, and to the circus, among countless other outreach. Airmen joined the base NCO club for a $1. They also socialized at the in-ground pool – now buried where the Alexander Hall dormitory is situated – which cost .25 cents a day to swim or $2.00 to swim for two weeks.

Students developed the NCO Academy Graduates Association into chapters nationwide to keep graduates connected. They procured an American flag and had it flown over the nation's Capital and the capitols of each state and territory. It had taken them 16 years when they raised it for the final time in 1986, during an NCO academy ceremony. (You can read more about the flag’s journey at

Leadership changes

News reports estimated 10,000 students graduated PMEC by the time Chief Lankford retired in 1981, after 42 years with the military. To honor his service, PMEC dedicated the enlisted dormitory as “Lankford Hall,” and they set an encased model train on the dormitory’s front porch.

“Life at the academy is like a train – it moves swiftly by, and every train has an engine to lead and a caboose to follow,” Chief Lankford was reported to have told weekly honor flights.

From then on, PMEC’s turnover pace seemed to set in motion – from the earlier switch to active Guard positions.

Chief Master Sgt. George Vitzthum took charge of PMEC as the second commandant. He had served as chief of military studies and had helped instruct and develop NCO academy, leadership school, and AMS.

Chief Vitzthum positioned around the time when PMEC offered the Recruiting and Retention Management Course, the Senior Recruiter Course, and the Retention Course.

These initial Professional Continuing Education courses on campus expanded into numerous other subjects, including the commander’s orientation seminar, the accounting and finance courses, and the engineering and services courses, according to early catalogs. By the close of the decade, it would offer 72 annual classes.

PMEC marked its 15th anniversary July 21, 1983, with the graduation of AMS Class 83-6, and with its first change of command – Colonel Morrisey departed with more than 30 years’ service. Lt. Col. Herbert D. Wright left his assignment with the Ohio Air National Guard in Mansfield to take command.

“I’ve got very good vibes, leaving here,” Colonel Morrisey told the Knoxville News-Sentential at the time. “And my wife, she can’t wait. We’re going to attempt to smell all the roses – at least our share.”

In September 1985, Chief Master Sgt. Gordon G. Kniskern became the third commandant. As a former high school teacher and principal, he brought a strong academic background to his position, officials said.

“He explained to me during an interview, PME stood for Professional Military Education, and he wanted to ensure the Military part wasn’t forgotten,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dave Quesenberry from a 1991 report.

Future bricks

With 180 students in classes on any given day, officials began planning a seven-year construction project to replace the 1950’s temporary buildings they occupied since the 1967 trial classes.

“Plans are underway to meet the tremendous demand for NCOA and LS,” Colonel Wright announced in an association report.

Under the guidance of new leadership, PMEC looked to increase the size of the school. Among this group, Col. Larry W. Martin had already served twice at PMEC – as the executive officer, as a director of the curriculum, and as the Air Training Command advisor to PMEC. He was serving as the AMS commandant when he took command in July 1986.

“We know you are as excited as we are about the future of your PMEC,” Colonel Martin wrote in the groundbreaking announcement on the four-phase construction program.

Construction would demolish the entire campus and rise it up anew – it was PMEC’s focus into the next decade. It would increase daily student capacity from 180 to 410, which would allow NCO academy and leadership school to run together. It would also add a running track and a drill pad, and it would cost roughly $18 million, or $34 million today.

Two-decade conclusion

PMEC celebrated its 20th anniversary June 14, 1988. They tallied up two decades of learning – NCO academy conducted 177 graduating classes, with 8,300 students. The leadership school undertook 41 graduating classes, with 2,404 students. The Academy of Military Science held 99 graduating classes, commissioning 5,915 officers. And the growing Professional Continuing Education courses provided specialized training to 3,233.

Other Notes

Among the interesting facts about the education center from 1979-1988:

1. “With all of the cruel treatment he received from the Japanese military, Chief Lankford did not hold a dislike against them,” Chief Vitzthum recalled about Lankford's World War II experiences and POW survival from the Death March of Bataan. “He had thousands and thousands of friends, from top military generals to Privates and all walks of civilian life.”

2. Among many distinguished PMEC speakers, Brig. Gen. William Spruance – namesake to Spruance Hall – would become a campus fixture in the early decades with his visits and student safety messages, including his survival story of a 1961 aircraft crash. (You can read more about General Spruance at

3. Dean P. Martin Jr., son of entertainer Dean Martin, graduated PMEC’s Academy of Military Science in 1980. Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, Martin’s wife, attended his graduation ceremony.

4. A uniform patch of PMEC's emblem went into space for five days aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 1988, on Mission STS-26. (You can see the artifact, framed with a certificate signed by NASA Astronaut Lt. Col. John Lounge, in the Patriot Hall lobby display.)

5. PMEC staff served and trained Air Guard NCOs in the procession down Washington’s Constitution Avenue and to the burial of the Unknown American Soldier from the Vietnam War, May 28, 1984, and at the Tomb of the Unknown on Arlington Cemetery. (You can view it from the link in this article.)

6. Before Colonel Morrisey's arrival, and during his time with the Texas Air Guard, the former commander swore 1st Lt. George W. Bush into military service.