Education center reflects on 50 years: Part Five – Departures and arrivals

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith

The Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.


In honor of a half-century of learning, this feature series highlights TEC, from its first classes in a World War II-era aircraft hangar to the present day.


The current decade leading to TEC's 50th anniversary is noted through the departure and arrival of programs and leaders. Part Five looks back at 2008 to 2018.


Ten years ago, the campus and its alumni gathered during the final two days of July in celebration of TEC’s fortieth.


The commander, the commandant, and others joined with the Air Guard Director of the time, Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, for a morning ceremony and a parade of academy students.


"It's a huge milestone," Col. Michael L. Waggett, commander, told the Guard Times news. "We've had 40 years of building exceptional leaders for the Air Guard, of excellence in training and education, and of affecting attitudes about the Air Guard in a positive way."


The campus now graduated 18 professional military education courses annually. Its flagship schools remained the Academy of Military Science, the NCO Academy, and the Airman Leadership School. Also, it provided more than 20 skills enhancement classes in subjects ranging from explosives ordnance disposal to services, recruiting, retention, and management.


In 40 years TEC had imparted leadership to 44,000 officers and enlisted. Officials determined that 43 AMS graduates had become general officers, with two serving as state adjutants general at that time -- Maj. Gen. Todd Bunting in Kansas, and Maj. Gen. Cindy Kirkland in Nevada.


Passing of a legend


Sadly, it was not long after the anniversary celebrations that retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford died on August 22. The Bataan Death March survivor, World War II ex-POW, and Air Force EPME icon was 89.


NCO Academy and ALS were officially named “Lankford EPME Center” to honor him. More than 400 Wing commanders, state command chiefs, service members, veterans, family, and friends from across the nation attended the Dec. 16, 2008, dedication ceremony.


"Chief Lankford laid the foundation for our school to develop enlisted leaders of the Air Guard," said Chief Master Sgt. Deborah F. Davidson, the commandant at the time.


AMS moves out


Despite the rank and success in commissioning officers, AMS graduated its last class just three months after Col. Richard B. Howard took command in June 2009.


The Air Guard anticipated the potential move to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., for some time as part of a partnership with the Air Force's Officer Training School.


AMS rang its last commission bell at the graduation of Class O-2009-04. It had brought to standards more than 14,600 officers in the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve since 1971.


"AMS is a remarkable mission and success story," Colonel Howard said during the ceremony. "We've been very innovative."


Maj. Ronald M. Daniels was the last of AMS’s 15 commandants spanning those 38 years. He took more than a dozen faculty and staff with him to Alabama that summer in the reassignment.


TEC stayed productive, despite the loss of a significant program.


Lankford EPME Center used the additional dormitory and classroom space to instruct record-breaking class sizes. More than 260 students enrolled in the Spring of 2010 NCO Academy and ALS concurrent classes. It was among the most significant combined graduations of the time. Thirteen additional Air Force instructors and two new knowledge operations managers were assigned to handle an 800-percent increase, or 750 more regular Air Force students that year, reports said.


"Having all of these components in the classroom makes for a great educational environment...and in more ways than one," Chief Davidson said in a news article.


Combined EPME graduations in the coming years would increase to more than 300 Airmen. Satellite education also remained well-attended by traditional-Guard Airmen.


Online development


By then the Multimedia and Training and Education Development branches became Public Affairs and Professional Continuing Education under the Media and Engagement Division. Print newsletters and darkroom photography went the way of digital communications. Public Affairs managers brought TEC’s first website and social media accounts online as well as generated digital photos and news articles, which increased the campus’s marketing and public communications.


Demands for online information also brought about the “Minuteman Report" news videos in March 2010. TEC's videographers now worked with the National Guard Bureau to collect and format Army and Air Guard videos from the field. They produced one-minute daily news segments that focused on the Guard’s increasing operational missions worldwide.


"It is a continuation of our ongoing effort to more effectively communicate what the National Guard is doing both at home and abroad," said Jack Harrison, director of National Guard Bureau Public Affairs during the program’s inception.


TEC’s Minuteman Report team broadcast 1,328 joint news reports before it ended in July 2016. It had aired the Guard’s story worldwide, on the Pentagon Channel, the armed forces TV, and other Defense outlets.


Leader development


With the Minuteman Report still in its first year, Col. Timothy J. Cathcart took command as TEC’s 11th commander in July 2011, and after Col. Bradley N. McRee briefly held the position for six months. Colonel Cathcart was an Alaska Guardsman and HC-130 rescue navigator who had served in a range of operations, training, command, and joint positions.


Lankford EPME Center also welcomed a new commandant that February with the arrival of Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch. Chief Felch had a history with the campus -- first in 1998 when he graduated NCO Academy and then one year later when he served for three years as an EPME instructor.


"I am incredibly honored," Chief Felch said when he accepted the assignment.


Within those few months, retired Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance died. The namesake of Spruance Hall was 94. His decades of support included his “powerful” safety presentations with students. A recording of his TEC safety presentation is online at


Satellite strengthens


By 2012, satellite EPME was in its 17th year of providing blended learning over the campus’s Warrior Network system.


Students watched instructors’ NCO academy lessons from the TEC-TV studios, via satellite downlinks to their home stations. Satellite ALS had stopped in 2008, but it returned in 2013 with renewed popularity and more capability – a $2.4 million studio upgrade added high-definition, TNET, and two-way live video, among other tools.


"For a student to attend our NCOA course completely in-resident, it costs the government just over $7,000," said Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Traugot, then the director of satellite EPME. "Whereas with [satellite], it only costs $4,800. The great thing is that they still get in-residence credit."


Sergeant Traugot, Chief Felch, Colonel Cathcart, faculty and the Media Engagement Division’s engineers helped bring about the upgrades to develop Airmen better. Reports from early 2013 noted how satellite education at the units' downlink sites took on an “in-residence experience” from the enhancements.


Along with the live video instruction, tele-training technology allowed students to see and hear their instructors, and vice versa, over a dedicated internet protocol line, Traugot said.


“So far, it's proving to be a vast improvement over the tried-and-true one-way satellite method where students can see and hear their instructors, but the instructors could only hear students when they have questions,” said officials.


Moreover, during Colonel Cathcart’s tenure Building 408 was dedicated “Wingman Hall” from its casual name as the “AIM” building for the Academy of Innovative Ministries courses once held in its multi-use room. When AIM training closed, the building became a catchall for continuing education as well as spiritual and family support.


"... it is fitting that this building be so named, as the TEC looks forward to a strong, resilient future taking care of Airmen," Colonel Cathcart said at the ceremony.


International event


Lankford EPME Center and AMS had hosted Canadian students for years, but EPME expanded its global student base by hosting Bulgarian students during the summer of 2013.


Sgt. Yordanka S. Petrova-Angelova attended six weeks of NCO Academy and Cpl. Stoyko V. Stoykov attended five weeks of ALS.


"TEC's host Wing, the 134th Air Refueling Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, played a key role in making this a success," said Chief Felch in a report.


The two Bulgarian students graduated with 334 service members from across the Air Force, the Air Guard, the Reserve Command, and the Coast Guard. Students from Jordan and Taiwan took classes after that.


Government shutdown


The campus had hundreds of students in classes on Oct. 1, 2013, when the government shut down for 16 days.


Congress did not agree on a budget, so the shutdown sent home 233 Airmen enrolled in NCO academy, and 57 Airmen enrolled in ALS.


Having done what he could to prevent the cancelations, Chief Felch inevitability broke the bad news during an impromptu student meeting in Wilson Hall three days into the shutdown.  Students out-processed the same day.


Chaplain, Lt. Col. Ira Campbell, as well as other staff and faculty, helped students work through the disappointment and difficulty in going home, short of the graduations they counted on for promotions and opportunities. They would finish their studies at a later date.


Chief Felch retired a few weeks later. Chief Master Sgt.  Thomas K. Stoudt became Lankford EPME Center’s 13th commandant.


Facility construction


The campus was in early planning stages for a 47,000 square foot dormitory and classroom facility. Col. Jessica Meyeraan took charge as Commander on May 22, 2014, before construction began that August.


Orange fencing blocked out a significant portion of the campus for construction. Workers moved student-flight monuments and cut down the large pine tree recalled by some alumni.


Neither Colonel Meyeraan nor her successor, Col. Kevin M. Donovan who took command in April 2016, would see the facility’s dedication in July 2017. But hundreds, including the National Guard's senior leadership, past, and present, gathered to name the three connected buildings to General McKinley, who had since retired as the 26th Chief of the Guard Bureau.


The current Commander, Col. Kerry Lovely, hosted the dedication, which included remarks from General McKinley, Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, director of the Air Guard, and from Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the Chief of the Guard Bureau.


Satellite unplugged


The year prior, the 14th Commandant, Chief Master Sgt. Edward Walden took charge of EPME following Chief Stoudt's retirement as well as several months of interim leadership under Senior Master Sgt. Paula C. Shawhan. (She eventually took rank and position as a Chief.)


From Chief Walden’s leadership, Satellite EPME conducted its last graduation ceremony on Jun 30, 2016. He and the faculty had worked with the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education to develop a new Blended Learning Course, which kicked off with the blended-learning ALS course that July.


TEC TV, as well as the field’s satellite downlink sites, were no longer used to teach EPME from a distance. BLC included a mix of distance learning via the internet with an assigned EPME instructor as well as the usual two weeks of on-campus education. Cost savings, as well as the time provided to students to learn in their own homes, were among the benefits given.


“Our 21st Century Airmen are asked to be an operational force while balancing deployments, training, and their personal development,” officials reported.  With a backlog of over 8,000 Airmen needing to complete ALS for career progression, TEC was able to increase throughput by 500 Airmen per year, reports stated.


Closing the decade


TEC's commandant, Chief Master Sgt. Winfield Hinkley arrived from Alaska in 2017 to take the assignment from Chief Walden. He was in time to speak at one of Lankford EPME Center's most considerable ALS graduation banquets -- so much so that the event happened inside the 134th Air Refueling Wing's aircraft hangar.


Not to be outdone, a super-sized ALS, TEC's next "most significant EPME," is underway during the time it marks five decades. Chief Hinkley announced his departure immediately after the celebrations. The next commandant is forthcoming.


In recent months, TEC began refurbishing its late 90’s infrastructure. The Vitzthum Hall dormitory closed and reopened after a year of renovations. Plans call for other building updates. The running track had AstroTurf installed on the infield in June to improve physical fitness and safety. In technology, TEC TV began broadcasting to workstations in December. It was a capability long sought by the field and worked toward by engineers and cyber-Airmen. PCE also developed and just offered its evaluation bullet writing course online, through Blackboard. With the departure of the Minuteman Report, broadcasters readjusted from reporting news to orchestrating video productions for customers across DoD. Finally, senior leaders visited the campus for their broadcast needs as well as to inspire EPME graduates and workshop attendees, as they have since the first class.


Throughout TEC’s history, the campus earned recognition time and time again for its excellence. If not through organizational and individual awards, then through others following its initiatives. TEC received its ninth Air Force Organizational Excellence Award for accomplishments achieved from 2010 to 2011. It earned its 10th AFOEA for achievements from 2011 to 2013.


That standard in forging the best way possible for Airmen in professional military education and continuing education never veered from the initial test classes in 1967.


Other notes


Among the interesting facts about the education center from 2008-2018:


1. Twenty-eight TEC runners accepted the first place award for the Fittest Company Challenge in the fifth Knoxville Marathon in May 2010. Staff, faculty, and family have placed in the annual team competition since – through the marathon, half-marathon, 5K, or the 4-person relay.


2. Airmen marched in Knoxville’s 85th annual Veteran's Day parade on Nov 11, 2010, while General McKinley saluted from the downtown reviewing stand. "You inspire me, you motivate me, and I go home to Washington tonight with a renewed sense of purpose," General McKinley said. He was the guest of honor.


3. The first public Wi-Fi came online in September 2011 at the lodging facility, with support from the local Air Force Association. Wi-Fi in the dorms provided students and guests the ability to do coursework, manage their households, and communicate with loved ones, said reports. TEC’s entire campus became Wi-Fi accessible in 2017.


4. TEC hosted nearly 40 noncommissioned officers from six nations for the International NCO Leadership Development Seminar in July 2012. The campus hosted the event again in 2017.


5. The Air Guard's ceremonial Order of the Sword was on display in Spruance Hall from 1996 to 2013. Retired Col. Edmund Morrisey, the first commandant and commander is the only Colonel in the Air Guard to receive the honor.


6. TEC TV earned the 2014 Innovation Award from the Federal Government Distance Learning Association for its learning techniques and technology.


7. In 2015, TEC dedicated Building 412, a multi-story dormitory, to retired Chief Master Sgt. Richard Moon (April 9). Chief Moon served as the fifth senior enlisted advisor to the Director of the Air Guard. Also that year, TEC dedicated Building 406, the remaining unnamed dormitory, to retired Chief Master Sgt. George Vitzthum (Oct. 8). Chief Vitzthum was the second EPME commandant, among other assignments.


8. The Community College of the Air Force approved PCE as an accredited school in May 2016. The branch previously used the Lankford EPME Center for its CCAF credentials. "It's exciting, and now the door is open to develop courses and get them accredited," said Tammie Smeltzer, the branch manager, in a report.


9. In 2016, TEC hosted and facilitated the Guard Bureau’s General Officer Staff Course for 71 Soldiers, Airmen, and civilians assigned at 35 states, territories and the District of Columbia. The GOSC course continues to instruct general officers' staffs.


10. Airmen donned eclipse glasses on August 21, 2017, to watch the Great American Eclipse. Students and faculty on campus experienced a minute-and-a-half of the total solar blackout.