Chaplain assistant gives, gains enlisted leadership

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
Classrooms line the hallways of the enlisted professional military education center in east Tennessee. They're filled with Airmen as Air Force lessons resound through doorways. A look inside shows them sitting in a semi-circle, focused on instructors.

Tech. Sgt. John McClean, with the Paul H. Lankford EPME Center here, knows their coursework. He teaches it for the service's NCO academy and Airman leadership school.

McClean said he considers EPME instructors the student's master link between leadership lessons and how they relate in the Air Force's shops and offices.

Also called flight instructors for their classroom groups, or flights, their main job is to ensure students understand the lessons required to graduate and serve in higher enlisted ranks. Instructors also maintain student records and course materials, administer exams, lead fitness and ceremonial training, and undertake countless other responsibilities.

Speaking from experiences

For McClean, the boundless work of an enlisted leadership instructor is more than just reading the same lesson plans. 

"I love hearing people's stories and experiences and being able to make those connections in class with what we're teaching," said McClean. "It's one of the driving reasons why I love picking up a new flight and meeting new people."

The Air Force has five active duty NCO academy school houses and four EPME centers. There are also more than 80 Airman leadership schools at its bases.

Lankford Center's instructors come from many different career fields in the regular Air Force, National Guard and Reserve Command. It is the largest and longest running EPME center in the Air Force, with a staff of 45, who manage thousands of students annually. 

McClean said he began teaching as an aircraft maintenance instructor, after years serving as an active duty F-15 crew chief. He then retrained as a chaplain assistant, so he said that he knows the strength that comes from sharing personal experiences, as well as in listening to them. Like others here, he applied to teach EPME to put himself into classroom mentorship and interaction.

"I really enjoy helping people, working with people," said McClean.

So far, McClean used 2,053 hours of instruction to graduate all of his students in 13 ALS/NCOA flights. Just last year, he mentored seven distinguished graduates and one John L. Levitow awardee - the Air Force's top EPME honor.

Recognition among recognized

McClean is the campus's reining Outstanding NCO of the Year, which was announced last month. He and his wife and family are also hoping for his advancement soon to a senior NCO rank.

According to his Director, Senior Master Sgt. Paula Shawhan, an Air National Guard aerospace medical service technician assigned here as director of education, McClean's recognition can be considered still more impressive than most Air Force units, when considering that the staff here is screened and selected from a pool of top applicants across the Air Force.

Case in point, McClean, who has seven college degrees, including two master's degrees, as well as many professional certifications.

"Our instructors are among the very best enlisted Airmen, because those are the NCOs and senior NCOs we want instructing and sharing experiences," said Shawhan.  "So, McClean is a performer among that group."

Shawhan, who is also trained as an EPME instructor, said that instructing is not easy work, even for those who enjoy it, but helping others succeed and perhaps receive their promotions is rewarding.

"The favorite part of my job is being able to serve as a witness and contributor in an Airman's journey; this includes both students and faculty," said Shawhan. "I'm honored to be part of Tech. Sgt. McClean's Air Force story and can't wait for his promotion on 1 April."